Relaxed. Energized. Calm. Rejuvenated.
Can these words describe the sensation of having needles inserted into your skin?
Acupuncture patients describe a restive state that leaves them with new vitality. That’s surely one reason five million people in the U.S. undergo this treatment each year. In fact, the majority of Americans age 50 and older have tried alternative medicine, including acupuncture, for everything from pain management to addiction treatment.
Acupuncture is documented in Chinese writings dating back more than 5,000 years. Back then, the practice utilized small pieces of stone, called bien. Today’s practitioners use long, solid, single-use needles about the width of a human hair. The needle is inserted into a plastic sleeve which is pressed against the skin, then tapped to gently push the needle just .5 cm to 8 cm into the skin. Depending upon the desired outcome, the practitioner may twirl the needle, heat it with burning mugwort (a process known as moxibustion), or stimulate it electrically. Needles stay in place 20 to 40 minutes, with additional adjustments as the therapist sees fit.
Acupuncture needles are inserted at points along the body’s connective pathways, or meridians. Meridians conduct energy, called qi (chē) between the surface of the body and the internal organs. When these pathways become blocked, the result is disease or symptoms of disease. Acupuncture unblocks the meridians, allowing energy to flow freely. This concept is at the center of Eastern thinking, in which the universe is constantly readjusting to stay in balance. Many other Eastern practices, such as Tai Chi and Chi Gong, are based upon the same principle.
Acupuncture’s advantage over conventional Western medicine is its overwhelming lack of side effects. The National Women’s Health Resource Center reports that the original symptoms may seem to be aggravated after the first treatment, but that abates. There may also be changes in appetite, sleep, bowel or urination patterns. This also is normal as energy flow is restored. Patients are advised that heavy eating or the use of alcohol before or immediately after the treatment will interfere with its positive effects. It’s a good idea to tell your acupuncturist about medications, whether you’re prone to bleeding and/or if you have a pacemaker.
Virtually unheard of in the U.S. before the 1970s, acupuncture came to the public’s attention when President Nixon traveled to China with reporters who witnessed several surgeries employing acupuncture as anesthesia. Interest and acceptance by medical organizations has steadily grown.
In a 1997 consensus statement, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) stated, “There is clear evidence that needle acupuncture treatment is effective for postoperative and chemotherapy nausea and vomiting, nausea of pregnancy, and postoperative dental pain.”
The World Health Organization has identified dozens of conditions for which acupuncture is effective. More than 80 clinical trials are currently recruiting or planned for a wide variety of conditions and ailments, including autism, stimulation of labor, treatment of constipation, wound healing, fatigue in breast cancer patients, pain after hip arthroplasty, hot flashes, pain from neck surgery and urinary incontinence.
In a study of stroke patients with paralysis, the U.S. Veterans Administration and the Boston University School of Medicine found that 61% showed significant improvement following acupuncture. A second study demonstrated that HIV patients using acupuncture in combination with herbs also showed improvement. Dr. Harvey Kaltsas testified before a Senate subcommittee that frequency and severity of muscle tension headaches and migraines were reduced by acupuncture treatment. The procedure has been used successfully in several states in detoxification and probation programs for drug abusers. Nor is this all…
The National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases reports a large clinical trial for short- and long-term safety and efficacy of acupuncture for pain related to osteoarthritis of the knee. The National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine reports encouraging research on acupuncture treatment for dental surgery pain, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, asthma, bronchitis, myocardial infarction and rehabilitation from stroke. Acupuncture’s efficacy is still being investigated for addiction, asthma, carpal tunnel syndrome, fibromyalgia, headache, low back pain, menstrual cramps, myofascial pain, osteoarthritis, stroke rehabilitation, tennis elbow and much more.
An interesting by-product of the practice is acupressure, which engages the acupoints through pressure and massage rather than needles. Increasingly popular is the fingertip facelift technique, developed in London and trademarked as Rejuvanessence® by Swedish-born Margareta Loughran. Incorporating the principles of acupuncture and other holistic practices, the system addresses muscle memory along meridian pathways to retrain the muscles and skin. “It improves skin tone, diminishes wrinkles” and gives the emotional lift that results from feeling better about your outward appearance.
Most states now require acupuncturists to be licensed, certified or registered. Master’s-degree level programs are funded by the U.S. Department of Education, courses are available at a number of medical schools, and several
thousand MDs are trained in acupuncture.
To find an acupuncturist, seek out a local alternative medicine organization or the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine. Medical doctors trained and licensed in acupuncture may belong to the American Academy of Medical Acupuncture.