Acupuncture is one of the oldest, most commonly used medical procedures in the world. It has become the biggest part of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) in the United States in the years since 1972 when President Nixon visited China, at which time he saw amazing results for patients during his visits to hospitals. Now we are seeing pain clinics, primary care doctors, orthopedic surgeons, and rheumatologists making more referrals for acupuncture treatment.
Acupuncture Helps Reduce Pain, Depression, Anxiety
Acupuncture treatment stimulates the body’s energy points to balance bio-chemicals such as increasing endorphins in the brain, which plays an important role in reducing pain, increasing the serotonin level that is often deficient in people who have depression, and lowering the level of norepinephrine and dopamine that helps to relieve anxiety and manic conditions. Acupuncture also works on the autonomic nervous system, which influences the body’s self-regulating mechanisms, thus enhancing our self-healing abilities and promoting physical and emotional well-being. It also stimulates the immune system, making immune cells more active in the body.
Studies in China have shown that acupuncture treatment may alter brain chemistry by affecting the release of neurotransmitters and neurohormones in a beneficial way. Acupuncture affects the central nervous system as it is related to sensation and involuntary body functions, such as immune reactions and processes whereby a person’s blood pressure, blood flow, and body temperature are regulated. In China, acupuncture is used to treat cancer and reduce the side effects of chemotherapy and radiation therapy. The benefits from acupuncture for treating cancer come from an enhanced immune function, which promotes healing and helps the body to fight the cancer.
In China, many people use herbal medicine to treat their problems. Acupuncture is used for pain reduction. In the United States, acupuncture is used for an assortment of problems including digestion, addiction, circulation, immune system weaknesses, hypertension and heart disease, chronic fatigue, emotional problems, insomnia, headache and muscle aches, arthritis, sciatica, poor vision, stroke, infertility, PMS, fibroids, asthma, back pain, and sinus and neck problems. Because many Chinese can take herbal preparations made up of leaves, minerals, seeds, roots, and all other plant parts, those who have these kinds of problems use herbal medicine more often than acupuncture, even though the herbs require cooking and do not taste good. In recent years, it seems an increased number of people in China go to acupuncture treatment and massage therapy.
Acupuncture is Needle Therapy
Acupuncture is called needle treatment or needle therapy. The acupuncturist inserts needles of various lengths into different body points on the meridian pathway. These points are located on or join in channels or meridians; it is along these meridians that the Qi (energy) flows. You might think of Qi as a train traveling along on railroad tracks, which are the meridians, and the acupuncture points are the train stations, or the energy stations. The treatment is like opening the tracks to let the train go through.
The points are used in treatment, and are carefully chosen the TCM practitioner to disperse any blockages or stagnations, and bring the patient’s Qi and blood into balance. The stimulation from acupuncture not only activates the energy system, but also changes body chemicals and neural transmitters in the blood system and between the cells in the body. This kind of natural stimulation is safe and effective for many conditions. Patients feel sensations that have been described as heavy, tight, strong, deep ache, and dull ache. If the patient feels a sharp pain, the practitioner should reinsert the needle, because if the needle hit a nerve ending or a small blood vessel. Conversely, if there is no sensation at all, the needle has not been placed at the acupuncture point, making the treatment less effective. Only if the needle is inserted at the right place will the treatment work.
Acupuncture: Moxibustion Process
Moxibustion is the process whereby a dried herb is burned indirectly above the skin, above specific acupuncture points, or the herb is attached to acupuncture needles, and then burned in order to heat the needles. This procedure warms the Qi and blood in the meridian channels. Moxibustion is most commonly used when there is a requirement to expel cold and dampness from the body. Not every patient requires Moxibustion. If the practitioner uses Moxibustion on a patient with a heat-type physical constitution and symptoms, the problem can become worse. Moxibustion is often used with acupuncture. Moxibustion can also be used in self-care. You can ignite the Moxi-roll, which is made from an herb called Ai Yie (Artemisia argyi), and then hold it above your skin near the problem or acupoint that relates to the problem. This self-healing method helps relieve pain and promotes circulation that helps heal the affected tissue. The patient should have some knowledge of the body’s meridian system and acupuncture points, so that he or she can be instructed by the acupuncturist on how to perform the treatment.
Some Chinese practitioners like to use the cupping technique, which requires special training. Like Moxibustion, the cupping technique is effective for many ailments especially for reducing pain caused by the stagnation of Qi and blood. I have had many people come to me for treatment for back pain. Some of them were treated with the cupping technique. The cupping technique involves creating a vacuum in a cup, which is placed on the body. The airless cup is put on the skin above the area that has the stagnation and left there for about four minutes (the amount of time will vary for different patients.) The technique unblocks the stagnation of Qi and blood, and patients feel better immediately. If the cupping is not tight enough, the procedure will fail. If the cupping is left on the patients’ body too long, more stagnation occurs, which affirms that the TCM practitioner needs to be well trained.
In early years, practitioners used bamboo cups for treatment. Now, however, they primarily use special glass jars. The cupping treatment might leave a purple mark on the body. During the summer time, especially when you plan to go to the beach, you might want to avoid the treatment altogether!