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information about acupuncture
what is acupuncture?
Acupuncture has been used as a healing modality for over 3,000 years. Although what is called acupuncture comprises several different therapies (known collectively as Traditional Chinese Medicine, or TCM), the best-known application is the gentle insertion of very fine needles at specific points on the body. These points have been shown to be effective in the treatment of various health problems (in the past three decades, electromagnetic research has confirmed the existence and locations of these points). The benefits of acupuncture have become widely recognized and integrated with mainstream healthcare. Acupuncture takes into consideration the person as a whole. The aim is to not only eliminate the symptoms, but also to treat the underlying cause, increase function, and improve vitality.
Acupuncture helps to prevent illness by improving the overall functioning of the body's immune and organ systems. Acupuncture is helpful for treating existing illnesses and injuries, preventing both recurrence of illnesses and new illness, and improving overall health.
how does acupuncture work?
Traditional acupuncture is based on ancient Chinese theories of the flow of Qi (chee), which can be loosely translated as energy. Qi flows in channels (or meridians) throughout the body and over its surfaces. These meridians are rivers of energy flowing through the body, distributed much like nerves and blood vessels. The meridians are often compared to a series of interconnected highways. Each major organ is associated with its own meridian. Through the network of meridians the internal organs are connected to certain areas and parts of the body, including the muscles, bones, joints, and other organs.
In Chinese medicine, 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 smoothly through the meridians to nourish the organs and tissues. If an obstruction occurs in one of the meridians, the Qi is disrupted and cannot flow properly. When Qi cannot flow smoothly or is forced to flow in the opposite direction, the body's innate balance is disrupted and illness results.
Acupuncture points are the specific points on the meridians where the Qi is both concentrated and accessible. Acupuncture adjusts the flow of Qi in the body, leading it to areas where it is needed and draining it from areas where it is stuck or in excess. In this way, acupuncture restores balance to the body. When balance is restored, health returns.
acupuncture and modern science
To the human body, acupuncture needles are a physical stimulus. In Western science, a stimulus is defined as a detectable change in either the external environment or within the body itself. When the body detects change, it produces a response. Although acupuncture is not yet fully understood by Western science, with modern technology scientists can now actually begin to "see" the body's response to acupuncture. For example, by using an MRI, researchers have shown that when an acupuncture needle is inserted at specific acupuncture points on the body, corresponding changes occur in the brain.
This research shows that acupuncture points stimulate the central nervous system to release pain-relieving chemicals into the muscles, spinal cord, and brain. Acupuncture also stimulates the hypothalmus and pituitary glands, which control parts of the nervous and endocrine systems, many of the body's essential hormones, and functions such as sleep, temperature regulation, and appetite. Research suggests that acupuncture may also alter brain chemistry by affecting the release of neurotransmitters, biochemical substances that stimulate or inhibit nerve impulses, and neurohormones, chemical substances that impact the activity of our body's organ systems.
Acupuncture can be seen as a bridge that is able to affect and integrate different systems of the body, such as the nervous, endocrine, pituitary, circulatory, reproductive, and digestive systems. Because of these broad effects, acupuncture can create profound changes in the self-regulating and self-healing systems of the body.
summary and links
Chinese medicine has been around for thousands of years and has provided us with a unique and holistic approach to help prevent and treat disease. Western science and Traditional Chinese Medicine ultimately rely on the body's natural healing ability to maintain health and protect against disease. Both have the same goal of helping a person stay healthy. Western science tends to use medication and surgery as needed. Acupuncturists tend to use gentle needling and herbs. A combination of both systems creates an ideal environment of health and healing.
For more information on acupuncture and TCM:
- California State Acupuncture Board
- A Patient's Guide to Chinese Medicine
Thanks to Cindi Ignatovsky, L.Ac. for this information.