Acupuncture is one of the oldest and most commonly used medical procedures in the world. Although it originates in China more than 2,000 years ago, it did not gain widespread recognition in the United States until the 1970s. Today, according to a National Survey, about 8.2 million Americans have had acupuncture.
Acupuncture involves inserting fine needle to control pain, restore and maintain health. It is a component of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM).
TCM is a system of medicine in which the body is seen as a balance of two opposing forces -- yin and yang. The balance between yin (cold, slow or passive principle) and yang (hot, excited, active principle) control the flow of qi or chi. Qi is the vital energy to life force responsible for a person's spiritual, emotional, mental and physical balance. When the internal balance of yin and yang is disrupted, the imbalance of yin and yang is disrupted; the imbalance leads to blockage of qi. According to Chinese theory, blockage of qi results in illness or pain.
Qi flows through energy pathways (called meridians) in the body. There are about 12 main meridians and 8 secondary meridians in the body. Each meridian is believed to correspond to one specific organ or group of organs.
The theory behind acupuncture is that stimulating specific points along the meridians where the energy pathway is close to the skin can correct the flow of qi. Eventually this restores health and relieves the pain. There are more than 200 acupuncture points on the body.
There are a number of techniques used to stimulate acupuncture points. The most commonly used form of acupuncture involves the placement of hair-thin, metallic needles at specific locations on the skin. Acupuncture points can also be stimulated with pressure (acupressure), laser, ultrasound, heat or electricity.
In 1996, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved acupuncture needles for use by licensed professionals. The use of acupuncture needles has gained approval in U.S.A. The studies have demonstrated the following theories regarding the effectiveness of acupuncture:
Acupuncture is commonly used to relieve chronic and acute pain. Conditions commonly treated with this procedure include, but not limited to:
Acupuncture typically takes place in a clinic or doctor's office. During the initial visit, the doctor will collect the patient's history to determine possible contributing factors. A physical exam will be performed to assess your status.
Depending on where the needles are going to be placed, you may be told to lie on your back or on stomach. The acupuncture points are then sterilized with alcohol or another disinfectant. Law in most of the states requires the disposable, one-time-use, sterilized needles. These needles are inserted at specific points in the body. You may require anywhere from one or two needles to 20 needles. Each needle is twirled or gently jiggled as it is placed to achieve the correct stimulation. They may be placed just under the skin or as deep as 3 inches or 8cm. The depth each needle is inserted is dependent on the location on the body and the condition being treated. The needles are not necessarily placed in the area of pain. For example, pain or problems noted in the liver may use an acupuncture point in the leg or foot. Also, placement in one area often stimulates feeling in another part of the body. Most patients feel no pain or minimal discomfort as the needles are inserted. You may feel a pinch or sting accompanied by a sensation of warmth or tingling. In most cases, the needles are left in place for 15 to 30 minutes. At the end of the session, the acupuncturist quickly and painlessly removes each needle. The one-time-use needles commonly used in the treatment will be disposed.
In some cases, electrical wires may be attached to the acupuncture needles, incorporating electrical therapy. A weak current is then sent to the needles to stimulate the acupuncture points. This can cause a mild tingling or no sensation at all. An initial acupuncture evaluation typically lasts an hour, with weekly or biweekly follow-up sessions lasting 15 to 30 minutes. Treatment may take place over several weeks or longer. Patients with a single condition usually require 6 to 12 sessions of treatment. The number of sessions required is often based on your overall health and the condition being treated.
Patients respond differently to acupuncture. Some patients report an immediate and strong effect after treatment, whereas others with the same disease or symptom may not notice a difference until several sessions have been conducted.
As with most medical treatments, there a number of benefits and risks associated with acupuncture. Potential benefits include:
However, patients can dramatically reduce these risks by seeking treatment from a qualified practitioner.
Acupuncture may be used as a stand-along treatment or in combination with pain medication or other forms of treatment, such as physical therapy or manipulation therapy. Patients interested in pursuing acupuncture as a treatment option are encouraged to discuss the method with their doctor. Doctors will evaluate the patient's medical history and current condition to determine whether acupuncture is a suitable form of treatment.