What is Acupuncture?
Acupuncture is one of the oldest recorded forms of medicine and is used to realign and balance our energy system into a harmonious flow. It is based off of the belief that we all carry vital energy (called “Qi”) through our meridians (energy layers). Acupuncture has been used to treat hundreds of imbalances, from a minor cold to chronic back pain.
Along with Massage, Herbal Remedies, Exercise and Nutrition, Acupuncture is one of the Five Pillars of Traditional Chinese Medicine. As a healing form, it dates back 5,000 years, and today in the US, about 10 million acupuncture treatments are given per year. Most likely, someone you know has received a treatment; the knowledge of its benefits are becoming more widely recognized. Acupuncture is thought to be a valuable therapeutic addition by fifty-one percent of medical doctors, and the National Institute of Health approves Acupuncture as a treatment for dozens of conditions.
The history of Acupuncture dates back only a few decades in the US. However, it has been used in China and other parts of Asia for thousands of years, as a healing method for illnesses of almost all kinds. More solid research is needed to study just why acupuncture is effective, but so far it has been proven by Western medical standards to relieve pain, enhance healing and recovery, and treat effects of many conditions such as:
- Post-operative care in adults
- Chronic pain
- Myofascial pain, Osteoarthritis
- Low back pain,
- Tennis Elbow
- Carpal Tunnel Syndrome
- Chemotherapy side-effects
- Nausea and vomiting
- Postoperative dental pain
- Addiction recovery
- Stroke rehabilitation
- Headaches and migraines
- Menstrual cramps
It is also widely use for…
- General pain management,
- Muscular disorders
- Neuropathy/ nerve pain
- Energy balance
- Promoting healing process
- Injury management
- Peace and relaxation
- Emotional balance
- Strengthen immune system
- Sleep quality
In 1976, Governor Jerry Brown signed the legislation that legalized acupuncture in California. Miriam Lee was one of California’s first licensed acupuncturists holding California Acupuncture License Number 6 issued October 19, 1976. She received her O.M.D. from the San Francisco College of Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine on June 10, 1984. Miriam Lee can be seen as one of the first to practice Acupuncture in the U.S. She was a native of China, where she was a nurse, and midwife. Today in the U.S. Acupuncture is practiced by many health professionals, and rigorous standards must be kept to maintain licensure.ii
How Does Acupuncture Work?
Acupuncture treats illnesses in a way that releases or stimulates the energy in areas around the body. Needles, the thickness of a human hair, are inserted into areas of the body, and this helps to aid the body in releasing stored tension and pain. It can also heal more deeply the entire constitution of the body, including the emotions, the mind, and digestion. A good acupuncture treatment must begin with an open mind, and a desire to let healing start to flow again in your body.
An acupuncture treatment will begin with an assessment of your symptoms, and can include examining the tongue, the eyes, the skin, and the pulse, to determine organ health. In this way, your body communicates imbalances to you; skin color, texture, and even shape of the tongue in places can show the health of your organs. The pulse is read to assess the strength of the body’s many organ systems as well. Pulse reading is essential in most systems of medicine.
Healing happens on many levels, over the course of several treatments, and one acupuncturist’s treatment may differ from another, depending on what is determined with each diagnosis, or the specific goals of the patient. An effective acupuncture treatment can help you feel renewed. Your body is finding a new balance, and adjusting to the new flow of Qi. Sometimes the needles are left in points along meridians for several minutes in order to effect enough change.
Acupuncture seems to be a safe and effective therapy for certain health problems, but further more controlled research is needed to establish a firmer ground for the efficacy of acupuncture in treating various chronic pains.
Principles of Acupuncture
Some terms used in Acupuncture may be unfamiliar to you, or may be familiar to you, but you may not have connected them with medical treatments Some of these terms are: Qi (Energy), Yin & Yang, Meridians, Organ Systems, and Balance.
What is Qi?
“Qi,” pronounced “chee,” is the Chinese word for the life force that circulates throughout the body. It is our “energy.” When we die, our Qi (life force) leaves us. It’s the “light” that is on when we are alive. When we sleep, we are still circulating Qi, using energy and then restoring our energy, in a cycle of wake and rest. Qi is accumulated in our bodies based on our diet, and the air we take in. These components of our health affect the balance of our Qi as it moves through the body.
Yin & Yang
Yin and Yang are the poles between which the Qi in our bodies flows. It’s similar to the way that the Earth is balanced between two poles, and the energy that keeps the systems of the Earth going will always try to balance each other out.
The effect of magnets attracting or repelling each other works the same way – science shows how energy is either positive or negative. Acupuncture sees the energy of the body as a balance between Yin and Yang, energetically similar to the way we might understand positive and negative charges. When a person is ill, there are imbalances in Yin and Yang. Acupuncture seeks to influence this balance as a way to heal the body.
Much like positive and negative charges, Yin and Yang will always be dependent on the other. One would not exist without the other; they are in direct opposition, but always exist together, in everything. The Liver Meridian is a “Yin” meridian, and the Gall Bladder Meridian is a “Yang” meridian. These two forces have an important meaning in acupuncture treatments, governing pathways of Qi, and the movement of energy in the healing process.
Meridians, simply put, are channels throughout the body that carry Qi (energy) through our body. Along these meridians are the acupuncture points, forming a specific pathway. There are twelve Primary Meridians, and over 365 acupuncture points on the body. Each of the Primary Meridians exist on both sides of the body, mirroring each other exactly. Each meridian corresponds to an Organ System.
The Organ Systems are seen as organs that work together that create balance in the body. When we’re sick, our organs are playing a large part in the illness. Acupuncture treats organs through needling certain acupuncture points along meridians that correspond with Organ Systems. For instance, the Lung Meridian is needled to treat disorders of the Lung such as cough and asthma, but also shoulder and back pain, as well as abdominal distention! Whole Organ Systems are balanced using points along meridians of the body.iii
Why and How is Acupuncture Effective?
Acupuncture is a system, and a process. We can use it at different times of our life to deal with stressful situations, acute illness, or chronic disease. Regular acupuncture treatments can be helpful if you receive the treatments according to a plan that you’ll discuss with your practitioner. The body is seen as a conduit of energy, allowing electricity to flow through our bodies, connecting us to the world around us. We may need different treatments at different times, depending on the practitioner’s assessment of our energy imbalances.
Acupuncture is a safe, non-pharmaceutical way to feel less pain, and lasting relief. Science is measuring dozens of effects of the treatments, measuring effects on nerve fibers, endorphin release, and neurochemical effects on depression, addiction and intestinal disorders.iv
What if I Have a Fear of Needles?
It’s not uncommon to be apprehensive about the needling of the body. Dr. Angela Wojtowicz, a Naturopathic Doctor at Natural Healing Care Center in Tucson, AZ. describes how she approaches this challenge,
“I do what I can to explain the process and reassure them of what to expect. Most people that have never had acupuncture are most afraid of the needles… Acupuncture is very different from other needles, like a shot or IV. The needles are very very very thin. Most of the time you won’t even feel the needles go in. Others may have tried it before and didn’t enjoy it or get results. I encourage people to give it another try with a different acupuncturist, as each has a different technique and style.
Acupuncture is an amazing modality and each person’s experience is unique. I encourage everyone to try it, and respect their choice. Like everything in life, it is something that will happen when the time is right. Have faith and trust that it will happen when the individual’s body and mind is ready.”
Have you or a loved one benefitted from multiple sessions of Acupuncture? We want to hear your story!
i.Medicinenet.com “Acupuncture,” Apr 30, 2015.
ii.www.insights-for-acupuncturists.com/history-of-acupuncture.html “The History of Acupuncutre in the US Begins with Miriam Lee,” 2015
iv.Ceniceros, S., & Brown, G. R. (1998). Acupuncture: A Review of Its History, Theories, and Indications. Southern Medical Journal, 91(12), 1121-1125
Article Written By: Kelly Ashe, LMT