What Is Acupuncture?
Volume 21 Issue 22 2013-06-14
Acupuncture. It’s becoming increasingly popular, but the visuals can seem confusing or even scary. How can long needles inserted into a patient be healing or helpful? What exactly is acupuncture, and can it really work on ailments like headaches, stress, or fertility?
What Is It?
Acupuncture is one of the world’s oldest forms of medical treatment. Originating in the East, acupuncture involves the use of super-thin needles inserted into the body at either known acupuncture points (more on this later) or areas of muscle soreness. No drugs or even herbal remedies accompany the treatment; results come from just the needles themselves.
How Does It Work?
Both the East and the West each have a theory how acupuncture works. In Eastern thought, everything is comprised of two complementary yet opposing elements: yin and yang. When yin and yang are in balance in the body, there is no disharmony (disease). Additionally, all energy, or “qi” (pronounced “chee”), in the body flows along certain pathways, called meridians. If the qi is blocked, there is disharmony in that area, creating an imbalance in the body. The result is disease, whether something small like a headache or a more major ailment. By inserting acupuncture needles in specific acupuncture points (pressure points or areas where qi is at surface level), this blockage can be moved, meaning smoother flow of qi, increased harmony in the body, and resultant betterment of symptoms.
The Western theory of acupuncture is related to the nervous system. Under this school of thought, acupuncture needles stimulate points in the central nervous system, which in turn stimulate the release of hormones and neurotransmitters, chemical messengers that exert physiological influences on the body.
Whichever theory you prefer, the effects are the same: acupuncture results in increased blood flow to the area in question, meaning increased circulation, improved waste removal, and increased nutrient influx. This means better health overall in the target area (and the body as a whole). Additionally, the needling of certain acupuncture points, or sequences of points, can directly affect specific organs in the body.
Scared of Needles?
As I often tell my patients, not all needles are created equal. Acupuncture needles aren’t like those scary big ones that are used in labs for blood draws. In fact, they’re the opposite: acupuncture needles are extremely thin (the width of a human hair), usually painless, and are never used for blood draws.
What about China?
Lately, Chinese products have been under investigation due to chemical concerns in certain exported products. However, with acupuncture needles you should have nothing to worry about. Although the art and science of acupuncture originated in the East, needles are readily available from North American suppliers. As well, needles are pre-packaged and sterilized, and are never used twice.
A few things to keep in mind: acupuncture, like most natural treatments, does take time to effect a cure or the betterment of symptoms. Although quick relief of sinus congestion and headaches are possible, the best results stem from a series of regular acupuncture sessions. This is particularly the case with a deeper or longer-term problem like fertility issues or chronic stress.
Additionally, when choosing practitioners make sure they are certified acupuncturists (usually L.Ac.) or naturopathic doctors, since the safety knowledge that comes with formal acupuncture training and licensing is imperative.
Katie D’Souza is an AU graduate and a licensed naturopathic doctor. She currently practices in Ontario.
Disclaimer: The information contained in this article is for personal interest only; it is not intended for diagnosis or treatment of any condition. Readers are always encouraged to seek the professional advice of a licensed physician or qualified health care practitioner for personal health or medical conditions.
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