What is Acupuncture?
Acupuncture is a part of the holistic system of healing known as Traditional Chinese Medicine ("TCM"). TCM practitioners use a variety of therapies in an effort to promote health and treat disease. The most commonly used are Chinese herbal medicine and acupuncture.
- Chinese herbal medicine. The Chinese materia medica (a pharmacological reference book used by
TCM practitioners) contains hundreds of medicinal substances - primarily plants, but also some
minerals and animal products - classified by their perceived action in the body. Different
parts of plants such as the leaves, roots, stems, flowers, and seeds are used. Usually,
herbs are combined in formulas and given as teas, capsules, tinctures, or powders.
- Acupuncture is the gentle insertion of very fine needles into specific
points on the body. This process enhances the movement of energy within the body,
stimulating the body's ability to heal itself.
Acupuncturists complete highly specialized training that teaches the selection of points and the design of treatment protocols that are tailored to each individual's unique condition. The use of acupuncture to address the body's imbalances is based on over 5,000 years of experience in China
TCM emphasizes individualized treatment. Practitioners traditionally used four methods to evaluate a patient's condition: observing (especially the tongue), hearing/smelling, asking/interviewing, and touching/palpating (especially the pulse).
Acupuncture helps to prevent illness by improving the overall functioning of the body's immune and organ systems. Acupuncture is helpful for:
- Preventing both recurrence of illnesses and new illness.
- Treating existing illnesses and injuries.
- Improving overall health.
HOW DOES ACUPUNCTURE WORK?
Traditional Chinese Medicine Theory
The Classical Chinese explanation is that energy (Qi) flows in channels (meridians) throughout the body and over its surfaces. These channels are rivers of energy which are referred to as meridians. The Chinese have identified 71 meridians in the human body, which is a basic energy map for all people. The meridians are often compared to a series of interconnected highways. 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 certain areas and parts of the body including the muscles, bones, joints, and also other organs.
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 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 the 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 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, well-being 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, using MRI, researchers have shown that when a needle is inserted at specific acupuncture points on the body, corresponding changes occur in the brain.
Acupuncture points are now believed to stimulate the central nervous system (the brain and spinal cord) to release pain-relieving chemicals into the muscles, spinal cord and brain. Acupuncture may also stimulate other chemicals to be released by the brain, including hormones that influence the self-regulating system of the body. Recent studies have identified that acupuncture results in stimulation of the thalamus and hypothalamus, activating the areas of the brain that govern regulation of the body.
Oriental medicine has been around for thousands of years, and has provided us with a unique approach not just to control or alleviate symptoms, but to treat the underlying causes, increase the ability to function and attempt to bring the entire body back into balance. It heals the whole body. It is "holistic". It is natural and safe.
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 and prevent illness. A combination of both systems creates an ideal environment of health and healing.