Traditional Chinese Medicine is a healthcare system based on ancient principles which go back nearly two thousand years. It looks at pain and illness as signs that the body is out of balance. Specific diagnostic techniques are used that have been developed and enhanced for centuries. Instead of focusing on the illness, emphasis is on the individual and their symptoms. Each patient is unique; two people with the same western diagnosis may receive different treatments. Treatment modalities might include acupuncture, auricular acupuncture, cupping, moxibustion and electro acupuncture.
Acupuncture is one of the oldest, most commonly used medical practices in the world. Acupuncture is part of the system of healing known as Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM). TCM is a complete medical system that has its roots in ancient Taoist philosophy and has been in use for over 3,000 years. Acupuncture involves the gentle insertion of very fine needles into specific points on the body. The treatment facilitates the body’s natural flow of energy to improve functioning and promote healing. Acupuncture is useful for maintaining optimal health and preventing illness. It is effective for both physical and emotional problems.
How Acupuncture works
The Classical Chinese explanation is that there is a universal life energy, Qi, that is present in all living beings. This energy circulates throughout the entire body along specific pathways that are called meridians. Each of the major organs in the body is associated with its own meridian. Through the network of meridians the internal organs are connected to each other and certain parts of the body.
The Chinese believe that health is a manifestation of balance, both within the body itself and between the body and the external environment. When the body is internally balanced and in harmony with the external environment, Qi flows freely through the meridians and ones health is maintained. Illness, disease, and pain are the result of weakened, depleted, or stuck Qi, as it circulates throughout the meridians. Things that may affect Qi are diet, emotions, lifestyle, climate and external pathogens and poisons as well as hereditary factors.
Acupuncture points are the specific points on the meridians where the Qi is concentrated and accessible. Acupuncture engages the Qi by inserting needles at these specific points, the goal being to restore the proper flow of Qi. As the body regains its natural balance and Qi flows freely, well-being returns.
Acupuncture and Modern Science
Acupuncture is a physical stimulus that produces a response in the body. Acupuncture is part of mainstream medicine in several Asian countries. Many studies have documented acupuncture’s effects on the body, but none has fully explained how acupuncture works within the framework of Western medicine. Acupuncture is believed to stimulate the central nervous system, which releases chemicals into the muscles, spinal cord, and brain. These chemicals either alter the experience of pain or release other chemicals that influence the body’s self-regulating systems. These biochemical changes may stimulate the body’s natural healing abilities and promote physical and emotional well-being. Presently there are five prevailing theories as to how acupuncture works:
- Acupuncture enhances the immune system. Post acupuncture blood draws have revealed an increase in levels of white blood cell counts, specific hormones, prostaglandins, gamma globulins, and overall anti-body levels. This explains how acupuncture can help illness of the immune system and autoimmune diseases, as well as serves as preventive medicine.
- Acupuncture activates the body’s natural opioid system with the release of endorphins. Endorphins are the body’s natural pain killer. This explains how acupuncture eliminates pain, treats addictions, improves sleep and offers a sense of well being.
- Acupuncture regulates neurotransmitter levels, such as serotonin and noradrenaline. These neurotransmitters play an important role in treating depression.
- Acupuncture promotes circulation and has the effect of constricting or dilating blood vessels. This explains how acupuncture can treat many different conditions, promotes balance, and addresses the whole body, not only symptoms. Blood flow is what nourishes the body and allows for proper function of all bodily systems.
- For the treatment of pain, the Gate Control Theory explains that acupuncture overloads nerve gates with impulses which thereby block the sensation of pain.
“Moxa” is a technique that uses a Chinese herb, Folium Artemisiae Vulgaris, commonly known as mugwort. It is rolled into sticks or cones and burned either on or above the skin. It can also be placed onto the handle of an acupuncture needle to allow the heat to penetrate into the body through the needle. Moxa treatment creates a warm and pleasant sensation. It helps to regulate the body and strengthen the immune system. It is commonly used in the treatment of pain, arthritis and conditions that react positively to the application of heat.
This is a technique in which a glass or plastic cup is attached to the skin’s surface by creating a vacuum. The cup is left on for several minutes. This treatment stimulates circulation and is utilized to promote the free flow of Qi and blood. Cupping is used for many conditions including; back pain, shoulder pain, neck pain, asthma, common colds and influenza.
Electro-Acupuncture is a technique where a low electrical current may be applied to the needles. Electro-Acupuncture has been shown to decrease pain, accelerate tissue healing, increase blood flow and reduce inflammation. It is often used in conjunction with acupuncture to enhance a treatment.
Points in the ear correspond to areas of the body, brain and certain hormones. Auricular acupuncture can be very useful for many conditions, in place of body acupuncture or in conjunction with it. A point may be needled or a small seed or needle may be placed over the point and held with tape for several days.