Acupuncture is but one component of a larger medical system originating in China that includes herbal medicine, Tuina (Chinese therapeutic massage), Tai Chi and Qi Gong (movement and breathing exercise), nutritional counseling according to Chinese dietary theory, meditation, and lifestyle changes.
While components of Chinese Medicine are quite old (as old as 5000 years) acupuncture as a specific technique with a complete theory of diagnosis and treatment is approximately 2000-2200 years old. It is a safe and reliable technique that involves the insertion of single-use sterilized needles into specific anatomical locations on the body to promote the body’s own healing processes.
Currently there are several modern theories on how acupuncture may work. A few of these include the ideas that acupuncture:
- Stimulates the release of endorphins, the body’s natural painkiller.
- Interrupts pain signals from reaching the brain.
- Increases local circulation by promoting blood vessel dilation.
- Raises levels of hormones and white blood cells that strengthen immunity.
- Stimulates loose connective tissue called fascia to cause effects throughout the body to stimulate healing.
According to the Chinese Medical tradition from which acupuncture developed, it promotes the free flow of qi in the body (you can think of ‘qi’ as concept for the active elements within the body). This establishes the natural balance necessary for optimum health. Regardless of the specific mechanism, acupuncture helps thousands of people each year to feel better and maintain or regain their health.
Along with acupuncture, additional techniques may be incorporated into a treatment based on the needs of the patient and what will have the greatest effect. These may include:
- Heat application
- Moxibustion (the heating of an herb on a specific acupuncture point)
- Gua sha ( a “scraping” technique)
- Meditation and breathing exercises
- Bleeding (the bleeding of certain acupuncture points or superficial veins)
Practitioners may use a single modality, such as acupuncture, or incorporate multiple approaches depending on the particular nature of the patient’s health issue. Just as a practitioner may incorporate multiple therapies to enhance the chances of a successful outcome, so too should patients be aware of other health practices and consider those in their overall approach to their treatment plan. This includes conventional medical care under the guidance of a physician, but may also include other practices as well. However, it’s important to inform any and all healthcare practitioners you see of other treatments you may be receiving so that they can be better coordinated.
Many practitioners of Chinese Medicine are willing to contact, or be contacted by, other providers with appropriate patient approval. I believe this is the best way to ensure the highest quality care and the highest chances of success in treatment.