What is Acupuncture?
China is one of the first countries to have a recorded medical history that reaches back 5,000 years. Entrenched in this history are theories, diagnosis methods, and treatments based in science, in nature and a keen understanding of the body and its natural functions. Through the use of acupuncture, cupping, moxibustion, herbal and dietary therapy, bodywork and movement (tai chi and qi gong), Acupuncture, a form of Chinese medicine, works to restore the body’s dynamic balance- the Yin and the Yang.
Unlike western medicine that may simply look to override the body’s response to illness and disease, Chinese medicine works to restore harmony and energetic balance to the body, allowing the body to heal itself properly. This method means patients of Chinese medicine do not just cope with symptoms, do not merely learn to adapt to pain, they overcome ailments and can be fully healed, experiencing a return to more optimal health.
About the Techniques
Acupuncture and Chinese Medicine have identified more than 71 channels in the body, mapping out what equates to an energy highway. These highways connect to organs, including the skin, the eyes, and the muscles. Influenced by our internal world, our organ function, our thinking, how we feel, how we handle stress with the external world, the foods we eat, exercise and movement, these pathways can become blocked. When the body’s energy does not flow as it should, this is when illness and disease set in. When our inner world and the external world are balanced, and our body’s energy flows freely, we are healthy.
Acupuncture involves the gentle insertion of very fine needles into specific points on the body that align with these natural pathways and can bring relief to a broad range of physical, mental, or emotional conditions.
Besides needling, other techniques may be used as part of an acupuncture treatment. This include:
Moxibustion: Depending on the goal, the practitioner will ignite moxa (a mixture made from dried mugwort), which is applied to the patient to warm specific parts of the body. The intent is to stimulate blood flow, which in turn helps stimulate the body’s immune function. The patient feels a warm sensation where the treatment is applied which can be quite relaxing.
Cupping: In this technique small glass or bamboo jars are used to create gentle suction to pull muscles up towards the cups. This is intended to increase blood flow and loosen tight and tense muscles. Cupping is also used to open the body’s pathways so energy can flow more efficiently, blockages can be opened and toxins released. See below for research on cupping.
How does acupuncture treat pain?
Due to its reputation and therapeutic efficacy, patient and practitioner alike have asked for a scientific rationale to explain why acupuncture treats pain so well. There are various theories.
One theory is that energy travels along channels or pathways in the body. It is believed that inserting a needle into a specific point sends a message down that pathway to the spinal cord. The central nervous system then sends a signal back along the nerve route, modulating the pain experience.
Another theory is that acupuncture stimulates natural pain-relieving endorphins that are produced in the brain.
The most common theory, but one that is still incomplete, is referred to as the Gate Theory. This theory says that if a nerve is overwhelmed with signals – not pain but the stimulation the needle produces – it closes (like a gate) and blocks further pain impulses from reaching the brain.
Lao-tzu (a sixth century B.C. Chinese philosopher) once stated that perhaps the simplest pattern is the clearest. With this in mind, the theory of Qi (the body’s natural energy or life force) and the proper flow of this energy has held up in the wake of incomplete scientific explanation.
From an acupuncturist point of view, this means the first theory provides the strongest explanation and value. Understanding that our bodies are made of channels of energy that move in specific patterns, Acupuncture seeks to restore proper movement of energy. No area of the body should have more or less energy than any other areas for any length of time or imbalance, and therefore illness, disease and injury result. In other words, our bodies should be restored to and remain in the balance to maintain optimal health.