Acupuncture is the practice of inserting fine needles into the skin to promote health and well-being. It is a branch of Chinese medicine, which is a complete system of healthcare that has successfully treated many common medical conditions for thousands of years.
Contrary to popular belief in the west, acupuncture has nothing to do with mysterious energy flowing through invisible lines called meridians. It’s based on the same physiological principles as western medicine.
Acupuncture works by increasing blood flow. Everything we need to heal is found in the blood: oxygen from air that we breathe, nutrients from food that we eat, hormones, pain-killers, anti-inflammatories, and immune substances produced by the body all circulate in the blood. By simply increasing blood flow to diseased or painful areas, acupuncture can overcome many common problems.
What is an Acupuncture Point?
An acupuncture point is simply an area of the skin with a high concentration of nerves and blood vessels. By stimulating these points with a needle, an acupuncturist is able to increase blood flow and send signals to the brain (via the nerves) that reduce pain and inflammation.
What Conditions Does Acupuncture Treat?
Since acupuncture works by stimulating the body’s natural healing mechanisms, it can treat a wide variety of health problems. Unlike western medicine, which has a doctor for each part of the body and a different drug for each symptom, Chinese medicine views the body as an integrated whole. By determining the underlying cause of a health problem, acupuncturists can treat many different symptoms at the same time.
For example, imagine a typical patient. We’ll call her Mary. Mary has elbow pain, irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), depression, insomnia and high blood pressure. If Mary goes to her doctor with these complaints, she’ll probably end up on several different medications. She might be prescribed painkillers for her elbow, muscle relaxants for her IBS, an antidepressant for her depression, a sleeping pill for her insomnia, and a beta-blocker for her high blood pressure. She might have to see a gastroenterologist and a psychiatrist in addition to her primary care doctor.
In Chinese medicine, on the other hand, we don’t treat each symptom separately. Acupuncture has tremendous “non-specific” effects. This means if we treat Mary’s elbow pain, her elbow will get better but her IBS, depression, insomnia, and high blood pressure will also get better. Why? Because all of the systems of the body are connected. As many as eight or ten different symptoms often boil down to two or three underlying causes. When these underlying causes are addressed, all of the symptoms improve. And Mary only has to see one health care practitioner (her acupuncturist), rather than several different doctors.
Among the conditions most frequently treated by acupuncture are:
|Autoimmune Disease||Back Pain||Blood Pressure||Carpal Tunnel||Circulation (poor)||Colds & Flus|
|Gas||Hay Fever||Headache||Heart Disease||Hemorrhoids||Hormone Imbalance|
|Indigestion||Infertility||Injuries & Trauma||Insomnia||Joint Pain||Kidney Problems|
|Liver Problems||Nervousness||Pain (all types)||PMS||Prostate Problems||Rheumatoid Arthritis|
|Sciatica||Shingles||Sinus Problems||Skin Problems||Sore Throat||Tendonitis|
|Thyroid Conditions||Ulcers||Urinary Problems||Weight Gain||Whiplash||Vertigo|
Acupuncture treatment has three primary goals:
1. Reduce the effects of stress.
2. Reduce inflammation.
3. Restore internal balance (homeostasis).
Reducing stress is perhaps the most important systemic effect of acupuncture. Stress affects every system of the body and is a significant cause of every health problem we suffer from. Although it may not be possible to reduce the amount of stress we experience, acupuncture can help reduce its destructive effects. Acupuncture releases a hormone called oxytocin which helps calm the nervous system and relax the body.
Inflammation is a natural, healthy response in the body that helps us heal from injuries and wounds. However, when it gets out of control inflammation wreaks havoc on our muscles, joints, cardiovascular system, digestive tract, internal organs and even our brain. Most people know that inflammation is behind conditions like arthritis and fibromyalgia. But inflammation is also a major cause of heart disease, diabetes and even obesity.
Like stress, inflammation can be difficult to avoid in modern life. Poor diet, chemicals in food, water and air, lack of physical activity and chronic stress all cause inflammation. Fortunately, studies have shown acupuncture reduces inflammation and its harmful effects.
Homeostasis is the scientific term for “internal balance”. When the body is in balance, natural feedback mechanisms help keep the immune system at peak efficiency. And when the immune system is strong, the body can cope effectively with most diseases. Acupuncture restores homeostasis by promoting proper blood flow and regulating the nervous, endocrine and immune systems.
Scientists are still learning about how acupuncture relieves pain. Although the mechanisms involved are complex, ultimately acupuncture is a remarkably simple technique. It depends entirely on one thing: the stimulation of nerves.
Acupuncture points have an abundant supply of nerves. When the nerves supplying these points are cut or blocked, there is no acupuncture effect.
Acupuncture relieves pain in three ways:
Acupuncture releases natural painkillers. Inserting a needle sends a signal through the nervous system to the brain, where chemicals such as endorphins and enkephalin are released. Some of these substances are 10-200 times more powerful than morphine!
Acupuncture reduces both the intensity and perception of chronic pain. Genetically the body is not designed to be in chronic pain. It will do everything it can to get us out of pain. Acupuncture “reminds” the body how it should be functioning, and jump-starts its natural pain relieving mechanisms.
Acupuncture relaxes shortened muscles. This in turn releases pressure on joint structures and nerves, and promotes blood flow.