Acupuncture is part of the traditional medicine of China which includes herbal medicine, exercise, massage and diet. It is based on a history, philosophy and culture very different from that of the West, and over the last three thousand years has developed a unique understanding of how human beings work.
Acupuncture is a method of using fine needles to stimulate invisible pathways of energy running beneath the surface of the skin. This effects a change in the energy balance of the body and works to restore health.
Moxibustion, the stimulation of energy by the use of burning herbs, is often used as a supplement. The herb mugwort (artemisia vulgaris, known as 'moxa') is applied in various ways: directly on the skin until warmth is felt, in a moxa box over a wider area of the body, on the end of an acupuncture needle or compressed into a stick and held close to the skin.
The origins and development of acupuncture
It is believed that the people of the Stone Age used stone or bone needles to stimulate certain points on the body. Eventually they noticed that these points seemed to lie in definite pathways, that the sensation from the needles was felt to pass along a certain line and that the points had a distinct therapeutic effect. As time progressed this was combined with basic anatomy and the theory of 'channels of energy' was formed.
After the People's Republic of China was created in 1949 many studies were made of the efficacy of traditional medicine in the light of modern medical experiments. Traditional and modern medicine were accorded equal status. Today in China hospitals are devoted to extensive research. Elsewhere acupuncture is now practised in many hospitals for anaesthesia and pain relief.
Healing the whole person
Chinese medical theory has a precise and profound understanding of the interface between body, mind and spirit, and the relationship between the individual and her environment. Health is viewed as a state of balance, harmony and relaxed flow. The Chinese medicine practitioner identifies patterns of disharmony by investigating the physical and emotional traits, age, habits and all aspects of the individual. The diagnostic tools of tongue and pulse examination are integral to this process.
Because Chinese medical diagnosis can penetrate to the underlying causes of disease, the patient can learn more about himself, how to participate in his recovery – and how to stay balanced and well. This may involve making lifestyle changes around diet, exercise and relaxation, for instance, or identifying and addressing emotional issues.
Qi is unknown in Western medicine. In simple terms it is our vital energy. It keeps the blood circulating, warms the body and fights disease. Qi flows through certain channels forming a network that links all parts and functions together so that they work as a whole.
Changes in qi precede physical change, so acupuncture can adjust the qi before a serious illness occurs. If physical change has already occurred, it can sometimes be reversed by adjusting the qi.
Who can benefit from acupuncture?
Acupuncture can be used to treat a very wide range of disorders. Outside the Far East acupuncture is usually known for its treatment of chronic problems, but it is also particularly effective in treating acute and painful disorders and infectious diseases. Acupuncturists are trained to recognise disease often long before the patient is aware of any illness. They are therefore concerned not only with treating illness, but also preventing it.
There are no restrictions as to who can receive treatment. Babies and children can be treated simply and effectively. Women can be treated for any complications of pregnancy without causing any harm to the mother or baby.
Acupuncture can be combined with conventional drug therapy, or can be used to gradually eliminate dependence on drugs for chronic conditions.
Further types of acupuncture
* Micro-systems-based acupuncture focuses on specific areas of the body - such as the ear or the hand – which are viewed as microcosms, or representations of the whole body. All organs and parts of the body are mapped out within these systems.
The most widely used of these is ear or auricular acupuncture. The practitioner stimulates points on the ear to affect a corresponding organ or body part. She may use a laser, a mild electrical current, acupuncture needles or small metal balls. The needles or balls may be taped in place for up to seven days.
Thirty years ago auricular acupuncture protocols were devised to treat many forms of substance addiction with wide success in the United States where such treatments now form an integral part of rehabilitation programmes. This therapy is available in some rehabilitation centres in South Africa.
* Electro-acupuncture uses various forms of electrical apparatus to give strong sustained stimulation to acupuncture points and is often used for musculo-skeletal disorders and various types of paralysis.
* Laser acupuncture uses a fine laser beam which is directed onto the acupuncture point. However the benefits of this treatment for pain relief are still uncertain.
* 'Medical acupuncture' is used by an increasing number of physiotherapists, chiropractors and conventionally trained doctors worldwide. This type of treatment does not usually involve Chinese medical diagnosis and the channels and acupuncture points may be ignored or re-interpreted. Treatment tends to be based exclusively on a conventional medical diagnosis. The practitioner may pay particular attention to the presence of trigger points in the muscles. Fewer needles are used and these may be left in place for very short periods, perhaps only a few seconds.
Researched By Body and Mind