What Is Acupuncture?
Acupuncture involves the insertion of very thin needles through your skin at strategic points on your body. A key component of traditional Chinese medicine, acupuncture is most commonly used to treat pain. Increasingly, it is being used for overall wellness, including stress management.
Traditional Chinese medicine explains acupuncture as a technique for balancing the flow of energy or life force — known as chi or qi (chee) — believed to flow through pathways (meridians) in your body. By inserting needles into specific points along these meridians, acupuncture practitioners believe that your energy flow will re-balance.
In contrast, many Western practitioners view the acupuncture points as places to stimulate nerves, muscles and connective tissue. Some believe that this stimulation boosts your body's natural painkillers.
Why it's done
Acupuncture is used mainly to relieve discomfort associated with a variety of diseases and conditions, including:
- • Chemotherapy-induced and postoperative nausea and vomiting
- • Dental pain
- • Headaches, including tension headaches and migraines
- • Labor pain
- • Low back pain
- • Neck pain
- • Osteoarthritis
- • Menstrual cramps
- • Respiratory disorders, such as allergic rhinitis and many, many other health issues
How does acupuncture work?
Acupuncture stimulates the body’s ability to resist or overcome illnesses and conditions by correcting imbalances. Acupuncture also prompts the body to produce chemicals that decrease or eliminate painful sensations.
There are hundreds of acupuncture points (called acu-points) along the body’s 14 major meridians (energy-carrying channels). Sixteenth-century Chinese doctors used the term “Qi” (pronounced “chee”) to describe the energy that flows through meridians. The belief is that illness is caused by a disruption of Qi, which leads to an imbalance of energy. Acupuncture can correct this energy disruption.
There are many theories as to how acupuncture actually works. When acupuncture points are stimulated, it causes a dull ache or other sensations in the muscle. One theory holds that:
- The stimulated muscle and sensory neurons send a message to the central nervous system (the brain and spinal cord);
- This causes the release of endorphins (naturally produced pain killers) and other neurotransmitters (body chemicals that modify nerve impulses);
- This, in turn, helps block the message of pain from being delivered to the brain (and has other regulatory effects as well).
Other experts believe that acupuncture works by transmitting signals via the fascia. Fascia is like a thin sheath that surrounds all of the body’s muscles. Some acupuncturists consider the meridians to represent myofascial chains, which helps explain why stimulating an acupuncture point in the lower leg can affect the back or other areas. Interestingly, research shows that acupuncture points have a lower electrical resistivity than surrounding areas. In a practical sense, the meridian system provides a navigable energetic map of the body for acupuncturists to locate and treat many conditions.
Is acupuncture safe?
Yes. When acupuncture is performed with disposable needles under clean, sterile conditions, it is highly unusual to have any complications. One of the advantages of acupuncture is that the incidence of adverse effects is substantially lower than that of many drugs or accepted medical procedures used for the same conditions.
BENEFITS OF ACUPUNCTURE
Acupuncture is recognized by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and the World Health Organization (WHO) to be effective in the treatment of a wide variety of medical problems. Acupuncture can eliminate stress, relax muscles, improve mental clarity, elevate mood, strengthen immunity, regulate and balance hormones. It also is an effective treatment for patients who are looking for alternative option in taking pain relieving medication.
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