Acupuncure is a very old healing system. The literal meaning of acupuncure is ‘needle piercing’, and the system involves inserting very fine needles into the skin of the patient. The piercing is minimal and is done on specific points on the body – these points are called acupoints or acupuncture points. The purpose of this piercing is to stimulate the points and affect the functioning of the body. While, the most often practiced method is to puncture the skin with fine needles, some practitioners also use other means of stimulating the acupuncture points; these include heat, electromagnetic impulses, pressure and suction.
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The origins of acupuncture are traced to China and most authoritative sources claim it to be at least 2,000 years old. Besides China, there are traditions of practice of acupuncture in Korea, Japan and some other countries. Acupuncture is considered to be a part of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM).
As a system of healing, proponents of acupuncture recommend it because of the following advantages:
- It offers treatment without involving drugs.
- It is preventive.
- It attempts to treat the cause as well as symptoms.
- It is a holistic approach to health as it links body, mind and emotions.
How Acupuncture Works
Like many other systems of healing, TCM is based on a theorisation which asserts that the body has an energy force running throughout it. This energy is variously called Qi or Chi (both pronounced chee). A person’s health is influenced by the flow of Qi in the body. Any blockage, imbalance or deficiency in the flow of Qi causes disease.
The energy flows up and down along pathways that are called meridians. There are 12 main meridians and 12 secondary meridians. Acupuncture points are located along these meridians; the acupuncture points are specific locations where the meridians come near the surface of the body and are accessible to needles. There are more than 2,000 acupuncture points on the human body. If these points on the various meridians are stimulated, the restrictions and imbalances in the flow of Qi can be rectified, and that is believed to lead to restoration of health in the body.
A further extension of the energy theory states that Qi is comprised of two components, the Yin and the Yang. Yin has attributes of being passive, dark and cold, while Yang has active, light and warm attributes. In fact, it is asserted that Qi and its two components are present throughout nature, and an imbalance between these two components causes disease. On the other hand, a restoration of balance between Yin and Yang leads to an improvement of health.
There have been some attempts to explain the working of acupuncture within the conceptual framework of the Western system of medicine. One hypothesis is that acupuncture functions by influencing the working of the nervous system, which in turn improves the activity of endorphins and the immune system. However, there are no satisfactory explanations about acupuncture in the Western system of medicine.
What Can Acupuncture Treat?
The World Health Organisation has listed a range of disorders that have successfully been treated with acupuncture:
- Headaches, migraine
- Trigeminal neuralgia
- Some forms of paralysis
- High/low blood pressure
- Chest pain
- Poor circulation
- Muscle cramps
- Pre-menstrual tension
- Irregular periods
- Morning sickness
- Shoulder and neck pain
- Frozen shoulder
- Tennis elbow
- Lower back pain
- Addictions such as smoking
Different types of needles can be used for acupuncture—these needles can vary in length and shape of the head, but all needles used are metallic and very thin. It is important to make sure that the needles are sterilised and disposed after use to decrease the chances of infections spreading through punctures. The disposal of needles should also conform to the regulations and guidelines for hazardous medical waste. Improper needle placement, movement of the patient, or a defect in the needle can cause soreness and pain during treatment. This is why it is important to seek treatment from a qualified acupuncture practitioner.
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