Acupuncture is an ancient form of Chinese medicine involving the insertion of solid acupuncture needles into the skin at specific points on the body to achieve a therapeutic effect. It has been used for more than 2500 years. No drug is injected. The needles alone create the beneficial effects of acupuncture.
Acupuncture is an effective modality for reducing pain, decreasing muscle tension and reducing inflammation. Studies have shown that acupuncture produces an analgesic effect similar to that of morphine. Acupuncture involves the insertion of a needle through the skin at certain loci called acupoints (which are areas of low skin resistance). Needles are inserted at these acupoints in order to restore balance to the body, normalize function and control pain.
Acupuncture requires appropriate acupoints for needle insertion. Acupoints are normally located through anatomical location, palpation (tender points), or by electrical means. Acupoints are often present in regions distant from the site of pain. For example, low back pain acupoints are not only found on the lower back, but also in the buttocks and legs. Needles are inserted 0.5 cm to 1.5 cm into the acupoints. After the needle is applied, varying manipulations can be applied to the needle. These include lifting, twirling, rotating, vibrating, heating or electrically stimulating the needle. Typically the needles are left in for 10-30 minutes.
Traditional Chinese Explanation of Acupuncture
Channels of energy, Qi (pronounced 'Chee'), run in regular patterns through the body and over its surface. These energy channels, called meridians, are like rivers flowing through the body to irrigate and nourish the tissues. An obstruction in the movement of these energy rivers is like a dam that backs up the flow in one part of the body and restricts it in others. Needling the acupuncture points can influence the meridians; the acupuncture needles unblock the obstructions at the dams, and re-establish the regular flow through the meridians. Acupuncture treatments can therefore help the body’s internal organs to correct imbalances in their digestion, absorption, and energy through the meridians.
Modern Scientific Explanation
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 that influence the internal regulating system of the body. The improved energy and biochemical balance produced by acupuncture results in stimulating the body’s natural healing abilities, promoting physical and emotional well-being, and decreasing the sensation of pain.
The Most Common Conditions Treated by Acupuncture
- Acute and Chronic Pain
- Neck and Back Pain
- TMJ (jaw joint) Pain
- Headaches and Migraines
- Other Joint Conditions
Acupuncture Foundation of Canada Institute