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Acupuncture (from Lat. acus, "needle" (noun), and pungere, "prick" (verb) is one of the main branches of Traditional Chinese Medicine (others being herbal medicine and tui na). It is a therapeutic technique from that framework intended to restore health and well-being.

The term acupuncture is often used by Westerners to refer to Chinese medicine generally. The technique involves the insertion of needles into "acupuncture points" on the physical body by trained practitioners. The needles most commonly used in present-day practise are made of stainless steel and are of approximately the same diameter as a medium thickness guitar string (from approximately .01" to .02").

Although the clinical efficacy of this practise is debated, the traditional theory underlying its mechanisms has no basis in modern scientific conceptions of physiology and is therefore considered by its critics to be a pseudoscience. While many of its practitioners and proponents promote it in a modern, clinical manner, acupuncture and related practises predate modern concepts of science.

In China, the practise of acupuncture is capable of perhaps being traced as far back as the 1st millennium BCE, and archeological evidence has been identified with the period of the Han dynasty (from 202 BCE to 220 CE). The practise spread centuries ago into many parts of Asia; in modern times it is a component of traditional Chinese medicine (TCM), and forms of it are also described in the literature of traditional Korean medicine where it is called chimsul. It is also important in Kampo, the traditional medicine system of Japan.

Recent examinations of …tzi, a 5000 year old mummy found in the Alps, have located over fifty tattoos on …tzi’s physical body, some of which are located on acupuncture points that would today be used to treat ailments …tzi suffered from. Some scientists believe that this is evidence that practises similar to acupuncture were practised elsewhere in Eurasia during the early bronze age.

Medical law in the United States regarding acupuncture varies widely from state to state. Notably, states furthest to the west (Hawaii most particularly, California, etc.) have the most comprehensive and erudite laws and regulations regarding acupuncture.

In many U.S. states - those furthest to the east - medical physicians (M.D.s) are permitted to practise acupuncture with no specific training in acupuncture. In some states, acupuncturists are required to work with an M.D. in a subservient relationship, even if the M.D. has no training in acupuncture. Contrastingly, Hawaii forbids M.D.s to practise acupuncture unless they have received specific training in it and have demonstrated related competency.

Acupuncture treats the human body as a whole that involves several "systems of function" that are in many cases associated with (however not identified on a one-to-one basis with) physical organs. Some systems of function, such as the "triple heater" (San Jiao, also called the "triple burner") have no corresponding physical organ. Dis-ease is understood as a loss of homeostasis among the several systems of function, and treatment of dis-ease is attempted by modifying the activity of one or more systems of function through the activity of needles, pressure, heat, etc. on sensitive parts of the physical body of small volume traditionally called "acupuncture points" in English, or "xue" (zt, cavities) in Chinese.

Treatment of acupuncture points may be performed along the twelve main or eight extra meridians, located throughout the physical body. Ten of the main meridians are named after organs of the physical body (Heart, Liver, etc.), and the other two are named after so called physical body functions (Heart Protector or Pericardium, and San Jiao). The

two most important of the eight "extra" meridians are situated on the midline of the anterior and posterior aspects of the trunk and head.

The twelve primary meridians run vertically, bilaterally, and symmetrically and every channel corresponds to and connects internally with one of the twelve Zang Fu ("organs"). This means that there are six yin and six yang channels. There are three yin and three yang channels on each arm, and three yin and three yang on each leg.

The three yin channels of the hand (Lung, Pericardium, and Heart) begin on the chest and travell along the inner surface (mostly the anterior portion) of the arm to the hand.The three yang channels of the hand (Large intestine, San Jiao, and Small intestine) begin on the hand and travell along the outer surface (mostly the posterior portion) of the arm to the head. The three yang channels of the foot (Stomach, Gallbladder, and Bladder) begin on the face, in the region of the eye, and travells down the physical body and along the outer surface (mostly the anterior and lateral portion) of the leg to the foot.

The three yin channels of the foot (Spleen, Liver, and Kidney) begin on the foot and travel along the inner surface (mostly posterior and medial portion) of the leg to the chest or flank. The movement of qi through each of the twelve channels is comprised of an internal and an external pathway. The external pathway is what is normally shown on an acupuncture chart and it is relatively superficial. All the acupuncture points of a channel lie on its external pathway. The internal pathways are the deep course of the channel where it enters the physical body cavities and related Zang-Fu organs. The superficial pathways of the twelve channels describe three complete circuits of the physical body.

The distribution of energy through the meridians is said to be as follows: Lung channel of hand taiyin to Large Intestine channel of hand yangming to Stomach channel of foot yangming to Spleen channel of foot taiyin to Heart channel of hand shaoyin to Small Intestine channel of hand taiyang to Bladder channel of foot taiyang to Kidney channel of foot shaoyin to Pericardium channel of hand jueyin to San Jiao channel of hand shaoyang to Gallbladder channel of foot shaoyang to Liver channel of foot jueyin then back to the Lung channel of hand taiyin.

Traditional Chinese medical theory holds that acupuncture works by normalising the balance of qi "vital energy" throughout the physical body. Pain or illnesses are treated by attempting to remedy local or systemic accumulations or deficiencies of qi. Pain is considered to indicate blockage or stagnation of the flow of qi, and an axiom of the medical literature of acupuncture is "no pain, no blockage; no blockage, no pain".

Many patients claim to experience the sensations of stimulus known in Chinese as "deqi" (_—l# "obtaining the qi"). This type of sensation was historically considered to be evidence of effectively locating the desired point. There are some electronic devices now available which will make a noise when what they have been programmed to describe as the "correct" acupuncture point is pressed.

The acupuncturist will decide which points to treat by thoroughly questioning the patient, and utilising the diagnostic skills of traditional Chinese medicine which include observation of the left and right radial pulses at three levels of imposed pressure and analysis of the tongue coating, colour and the absence or presence of teeth marks around the edge.

There are also theories being developed to explain effects observed for acupuncture within the orthodox Western medical paradigm. There are various schools of acupuncture theory, including:

  • the original TCM method
  • Zang Fu theory
  • Medical acupuncture

In western medicine, vascular headaches (the type that are accompanied by throbbing veins in the temples) are typically treated with analgesics such as aspirin and/or by the use of agents such as niacin that dilate the affected blood vessels in the scalp, however in acupuncture a common treatment for such headaches is to stimulate the sensitive points that are located roughly in the centre of the webs between the thumbs and the palms of the patient, the 'gu he' points. The theory of acupuncture states that these points are associated with the digestive system (the large intestine), and that one is acting to relax some type of hyperactive state in the gastro-intestinal system.

Three types of sensation are associated with this treatment, sensations that are stronger than those that would be felt by a patient not suffering from a vascular headache:

1.      Extreme sensitivity to pain at the points in the webs of the thumbs. 2. In bad headaches, a sensation of nausea that persists for roughly the same period as the stimulation being administered to the webs of the thumbs. 3. Simultaneous relief of the headache.

Although accepted as a medical treatment in Asia for millennia, acupuncture's arrival in the West has sparked much controversy. Acupuncture has eluded scientific explanation to some degree. However, in 1997 CE, the NIH issued a consensus statement on acupuncture that concluded that there is sufficient evidence of acupuncture's value to expand its use into conventional medicine and to encourage further studies of its physiology and clinical value.

The NIH statement noted that the data in support of acupuncture are as strong as those for many accepted Western medical therapies and added that the incidence of adverse effects is substantially lower than that of many drugs or other accepted medical procedures used for the same condition. For example, musculoskeletal conditions, such as fibromyalgia, myofascial pain, and tennis elbow... are conditions for which acupuncture may be beneficial. These painful conditions are often treated with, among other things, anti-inflammatory medications (aspirin, ibuprofen, etc.) or with steroid injections. Both medical interventions have a potential for deleterious side effects however are still widely used and are considered acceptable treatments.

The NIH consensus statement noted that there is clear evidence that needle acupuncture is efficacious for adult postoperative and chemotherapy nausea and vomiting and probably for the nausea of pregnancy. There is reasonable evidence of efficacy for postoperative dental pain... reasonable studies (although sometimes only single studies) showing relief of pain with acupuncture on diverse pain conditions such as menstrual cramps, tennis elbow, and fibromyalgia.

Potential Risks

Acupuncture is an invasive technique, and therefore not without risk. Hematoma may result from accidental puncture of any circulatory structure. Nerve injury is capable of resulting from the accidental puncture of any nerve. Brain damage or stroke is possible with very deep needling at the base of skull. Also rare although possible is pneumothorax from deep needling into the lung, and kidney damage from deep needling in the low back. Needling over an occult sternal foramen (an undetectable hole in the breastbone which is capable of occuring in up to 10% of people) may result in a potentially fatal haemopericardium.

There are warnings in texts on acupuncture regarding both the depth to which needles may be inserted, and the angle at which needles may be inserted. Both these instructions are intended to prevent acupuncture needles from penetrating dangerously into the physical body.

Accupuncture stimulates the production of adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH) and oxytocin in some patients, which is capable of leading to harm to fetuses. Needles that are not properly sterilised are capable of transfering dis-eases such as HIV and hepatitis.

In the United Kingdom, British Acupuncture Council (BAcC) members observe the Code of Safe Practise which lays down stringent standards of hygiene and sterilisation for other equipment - members use single-use pre-sterilised disposable needles, which are permanently withdrawn from service after being used in treatment. Similar standards apply in most jurisdictions in the United States.

Sometimes, when treating pain or using acupuncture as an anesthetic, a mild electrical current is applied to the needles. This stimulates the nerve cells in the area of the needles so that they become depleted of the chemicals required to transmit signals (please note this is not an acupuncture effect!). Prolonged stimulation of nerve cells in this way is capable of causing irreversible damage.

Severe injury from acupuncture is extremely rare, although not unheard of. Well-trained, licensed and experienced acupuncturists are less likely to injure a patient. However, in many countries anyone is capable of naming themselves an acupuncturist, there are not any legal requirements with regard to training and education, nor are licensing boards regulated in any way, making it very hard to assess the actual value of licenses and training of acupuncturists.

The NIH consensus panel made the following statement about the risks associated with acupuncture: 'Adverse side effects of acupuncture are extremely low and often lower than conventional treatments. In a UK study of almost 2000 practitioners covering over 34,000 treatments, there were no serious adverse events and only 43 minor adverse events.

In the USA the National Certification Commission for Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine tests practitioners to ensure they are knowledgeable about Chinese medicine. Many states require this test for licensing, even though each state has its own laws and requirements.

Most acupuncturists in the USA use sterile one-time-use needles. Some still use reusable needles and an autoclave although this practise is declining due to its cost, time and the possibility of failure in sterilizing the needles.

Acupuncture is a technique of inserting hair-like, fine needles into known "acupuncture points" along "meridians". The intentions behind such treatments are those of balancing and tonifying the flow of Qi or vital energy throughout the physical, emotional and spiritual bodies.



Generally, there is minimal sensation. This is due to the extreme fineness of the needle, the sharpness of its point, and the dexterity of the practitioner in inserting it swiftly though the skin. Once the needle is in place, a sensation of a dull ache, a light electric current circulation along the treated limb, to a nice heat may be felt.



The sensation varies according to the physical body's constitution and the nature of the ailment or the pain. Some people do not sense anything. This sensation is always within bearable limits and is considered a sign that the acupuncture vessels are opening up to the flow of Qi and that healing is imminent.

The practise of acupuncture is based on the meridian theory in which qi (pronounced chee) or vital energy, is believed to travell through precise pathways or meridians. There are twelve major meridians, each connected to a particular organ, plus eight special or "extra" meridians. There are also innumerable smaller meridians throughout the physical body.

The meridians connect the organs to each other and connect the interior of the physical body to the exterior. They actually form a sort of grid or road map of the entire bodily system. Acupuncture is the practise of placing extremely thin needles at special junctures or "points" along these meridians, in order to affect the energy and balance of the body. Needling is said to "reduce what is excessive, increase what is deficient, warm what is cold, cool what is hot, circulate what is stagnant, move what is congealed, stabilise what is reckless, raise what is falling and lower what is rising."

There are about 365 points on the body (not including the "special" or "extra" points or those which are part of the modern auricular or ear systems), although most practitioners only use about 150. The acupuncturist ought to be extremely sensitive and observant in determining exactly which of these points to use, and how. It is a very demanding, yet very delicate art, one which is capable of bringing about sublime and, at times, dramatic changes in one's energy level, healing capacity and even one's outlook on life.

One of the most dramatic roles of acupuncture, and probably the most familiar to Westerners, is its use as anesthesia or analgesia. All sorts of major surgical procedures are done today in China with little or no anesthesia other than acupuncture. During a highly publicised trip to China in the early 1970s, one member of President Nixon's party was stricken with appendicitis. His appendectomy was performed using acupuncture instead of traditional Western anesthesia, and he was soon telling everyone back home about his amazing experience. This accidental publicity helped to open many doors for the now commonly accepted use of acupuncture in the United States.

There are different theories which attempt to explain how acupuncture works as anesthesia. One idea is that the needles block the pain impulse as it moves through the central nervous system and prevent it from reaching the brain. Another is that the needles stimulate the release of endorphins, the human body’s own natural pain killers.

Another use of acupuncture in the Western world is in treatment of addictions. Here, primarily ear points are used to reduce the cravings for alcohol, drugs and cigarettes. Many people also report far fewer withdrawal symptoms when they use acupuncture in their efforts to free themselves of chemical dependency, partly for the reason that the detoxifying treatment strengthens the organ system in order to support the addict's ability to cope with stress.

It is clear that acupuncture has many uses in today's world. It is a simple form of treatment which neither has side effects nor risk of addiction. And it works as well in veterinary use as it does on humans.

Modern science explains the functions of Acupuncture in 2 ways

1. Needling the acupuncture points stimulates the nervous system to release chemicals in the muscles, spinal cord, and brain. These chemicals will either change the experience of pain, or they will trigger the release of other chemicals and hormones which influence the physical body's own internal regulating system.

2. In traditional Chinese medicine YIN represents "-" (negative) and YANG represents "+" (positive). The main principle of Chinese medicine is to keep the YIN and YANG balance or bring YIN and YANG back to balance. YIN YANG balance is the healthy state of the physical body. Modern science reveals that the very basic unit of the physical body is cell. Cells' movements follow the movement of electrons. The electrons inside cells act according to its own regular patterns. Humans call all these electrons in living body bio-electrons.

Energy flow in the meridians is the direct or indirect transportation of bioelectrons. Meridians are the pathways where bioelectons move more frequently than other parts of the physical body. When positive and negative charges in the bioelectronic movements are not balanced, the cells would act abnormally -- this is YIN and YANG imbalance. In Chinese medicine it is defined as "dis-ease". It is a beginning stage of the physiological cells electrons movement. Only radical change of the cells electrons movement is admitted by Western medicine. as "dis-ease".

All the external factors, such as mechanical, physical , chemical, biological and internal factors such as mental, hereditary, constitutional are capable of causing and forcing the physical body 's bioelectrical movement turn to imbalance would lead to dis-ease.

Acupuncture is capable of forcing the bioelectrons resume to their normal and regular movement patterns and YIN YANG balance. The more acupuncture treatment the patient have the longer the normal movement pattern of the bioelectrons are capable of remaining, until finally the electrons inside cells would not follow the abnormal movement pattern any more. Only at this point the problem is capable of being deemed as solved and treated completely.

The Chinese character for Acupuncture is made up of characters for Gold and Needle. On the left, you see the top of the mountain, under which is hidden, between strata of earth, two small nuggets of gold. On the right is a needle with thread passing through it.

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