The goal of acupuncture is to bring balance to the body and to facilitate the body’s natural self-healing process. This is achieved by stimulating specific anatomic sites, which in ancient Chinese medicine are known as channels or meridians which enable the life force to rebalance. Today, among Western practitioners, these sites are referred to as acupuncture points or acupoints, where acupuncture needles are strategically inserted.
How Acupuncture Works
Acupuncture is popular among a diverse range of cultural and social backgrounds. Its attractiveness as an effective and natural form of health care is compounded by its holistic approach. Acupuncture puts an emphasis on understanding normal function and disease processes, focusing as much on preventing illness as it does on treatment.
Acupuncture treatment stimulates nerves, muscles and connective tissues, which in turn stimulates the body’s natural painkillers and increases blood flow.
The most common method to stimulate acupoints is the insertion of fine, sterile needles into the skin near the surface of the body. Pressure, heat, or electrical stimulation may also be used to enhance the effects. Other acupoint stimulation techniques include:
- Manual massage
- Moxibustion, a traditional Chinese medicine technique which involves the burning of mugwort, is a small spongy herb used to facilitate healing
- Heat therapy
- Applying topical herbal medicines and linaments to the skin to soothe pain or relieve stiffness
What is Qi?
Qi is life energy. When the body is healthy, qi flows through the body in abundance via channels called meridians. If these channels are blocked, there is no longer an adequate supply of qi flowing through the body, which can affect harmony, balance, and order. As a result, disease and illness may ensue.A low amount of qi can be caused by:
- Poor diet
- Environmental conditions
- Other lifestyle factors
Conditions Treated by Acupuncture
According to the World Health Organization, the following conditions and disorders are known to respond well to and be successfully treated by acupuncture:
- Neurological conditions (i.e. difficulty sleeping, nervous tension, certain types of deafness, noises in the ear, dizziness, facial and inter-costal neuralgia, some forms of paralysis, Meniere’s disease)
- Cardiovascular disorders such as high or low blood pressure, fluid retention, chest pain, angina pectoris, poor circulation, cold hands and feet, muscle cramps
- Respiratory conditions (i.e. chronic cough, laryngitis, sore throat, bronchial asthma, bronchitis, acute tonsillitis, rhinitis, sinusitis, the common cold, hay fever)
- Digestive system disorders (i.e. ulcers, heartburn, flatulence, hemorrhoids, liver and gall bladder disorders, gingivitis, hiccough, spasms of the esophagus, gastritis, colitis, diarrhea, constipation)
- Urogenital disorders (i.e. nocturnal enuresis and neurogenic bladder dysfunction)
- Eye conditions such as red/sore/itchy/watery eyes, conjunctivitis, simple cataracts, myopia in children, central retinitis, visual disorders
- Musculoskeletal disorders such as osteoarthritis, sciatica, low back pain, shoulder and neck pain, ‘frozen shoulder’, ‘tennis elbow’
- Skin conditions such as eczema, dermatitis, psoriasis, nerve rash, herpes zoster, acne, scar tissue and resultant adhesions, hair loss, dandruff
- Gynaecological and obstetric disorders such as infertility, premenstrual tension, painful/heavy/irregular/absence of periods, abnormal uterine bleeding or discharge, hormonal disturbances, disorders associated with menopause, prolapse of the uterus or bladder, difficulty with conception, morning sickness
- Sporting injuries such as sprained ankles and knees, cartilage problems, corking and tearing of muscles, torn ligaments
- Psychological conditions such as depression, phobias, emotional disturbances, anxiety, addictions
Acupuncture Side Effects
While acupuncture treatment is largely safe, possible side effects and complications include:
- Soreness: There may be soreness after the acupuncture session, with minor bleeding or bruising at the needle sites
- Injury to the organs: There is a possibility of puncturing an internal organ if a needle is pushed in too deeply, particularly in the area of the lungs; however this is not a common occurrence in the hands of an experienced practitioner
- Infections: Licensed acupuncturists are required to use sterile, disposable needles so as not to expose clients to diseases such as hepatitis
Acupuncture Risk Factors
Not everyone is a good candidate for acupuncture or a particular type of acupuncture. Conditions which may increase your risk of complication include:
- Bleeding disorders, including those who are currently taking blood thinnersWearing a pacemaker, as some types of acupuncture apply mild electrical pulses to the needles which may interfere with the pacemaker’s operation
- Pregnancy: Certain types of acupuncture are believed to stimulate labor, which could result in premature delivery
Selecting an Acupuncturist
The best way to select an acupuncturist is through a referral from someone you trust or from someone who has had a positive experience and positive outcome from a particular practitioner. Be sure your acupuncturist is qualified and has passed an exam conducted by the National Certification Commission for Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine.