Acupuncture in today's medicine
Russell Gunner, C.A.T. (C)

For the past several years, alternative medicine is definitely coming to the forefront in the medical world. In this article I will be dealing with the ancient medical art of Acupuncture. Today in most western cultures it is considered a "new alternative" medicine. In reality, Acupuncture has been a practiced medical treatment for over 4,500 years. Basically, Acupuncture is the insertion of very fine needles on the body's surface, in order to influence the physiological functioning of the body. In addition, a non-invasive method of massage therapy, called Acupressure can also be effective.

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The first record of Acupuncture is found in the 4,700 year old Huang Di Nei Jing (Yellow Emperor's Classic of Internal Medicine). This is said to be the oldest medical textbook in the world.

As the basis of Acupuncture, it has been theorized that the body had an energy force running throughout it. This energy force is known as Qi (pronounced Chee). The Qi consists of all essential life activities, which include the spiritual, emotional, mental, and the physical aspects of life. A person's health is influenced by the flow of Qi in the body, in combination with the universal forces of Yin and Yang. If the flow of Qi is insufficient, unbalanced or interrupted, Yin and Yang become unbalanced, and illness may occur. Qi travels throughout the body along "Meridians" or special pathways. The acupuncture points are specific locations where the Meridians come to the surface of the skin, and are easily accessible by "needling," and Acupressure. The connections between them ensure that there is an even circulation of Qi, or a balance between Yin and Yang.

Acupuncturists can use as many as nine types of Acupuncture needles, though only six are commonly used today. These needles vary in length, width of shaft, and shape of head. Today, most needles are disposable. They are used once and discarded in accordance with medical biohazard regulations and guidelines. There are a few different precise methods by which Acupuncturists insert needles. In most cases, a sensation, felt by the patient, is desired. This sensation, which is not pain, is called deqi (pronounced dah-chee).

Cupping is another type of treatment. This is a method of stimulating Acupuncture points by applying suction through a glass jar, in which a partial vacuum has been created. This technique produces blood congestion at the site, and therefore stimulates it. Cupping is used for low backache, sprains, soft tissue injuries, and helping relieve fluid from the lungs in chronic bronchitis.

The question arises How does Acupuncture Work? There are a few theories:

The "Endorphin" Theory states that Acupuncture stimulates the secretions of endorphins in the body (our bodies natural pain-killers).

The "Neurotransmitter" Theory states that certain neurotransmitter levels (such as Seratonin and Noradrenaline) are affected by Acupuncture (also painkillers).

"Circulatory" Theory: this states that Acupuncture has the effect of constricting or dilating blood vessels. This may be caused by the body's release of Vasodilators (such as Histamine), in response to Acupuncture.

One of the most popular theories is the "Gate Control" Theory. According to this theory, the perception of pain is controlled by a part of the nervous system, which regulates the impulse, which will later be interpreted as pain. This part of the nervous system is called the "Gate." If the gate is hit with too many impulses, it becomes overwhelmed, and it closes. This prevents some of the impulses from getting through. The first gates to close would be the ones that are the smallest. The nerve fibres that carry the impulses of pain are rather small nerve fibres called "C" fibres. These are the gates that close during Acupuncture.

There are many diseases that can be treated successfully by Acupuncture or its related treatments. The most common ailments currently being treated are: Lower backache, Neck pain, Arthritis, Headaches of all kinds (including migraine), Allergies, A general and specific use for Analgesia (including surgery) and relief of muscles spasms.

In conclusion, I feel that Acupuncture should be considered a valid form of treatment alongside, not only other "alternative" forms of treatment, but also along side mainstream medicine. More and more insurance companies are discovering the cost effectiveness of Acupuncture.

I would like to thank Jeffrey Singer for his assistance with this article. He is a pre-eminent acupuncturist from the United States who has been studying this profession for several years.