Acupuncture is one of the most popular traditional Chinese medicines (TCM) that is widely used for a range of conditions. It is done by inserting a solid, metallic, thin needle into the skin at different pressure points along the meridians. Needles can be manipulated manually or through electrical stimulation.
A patient may feel varied sensations at various acupuncture points also depending on what is happening from a health perspective. Additionally there are different ways to insert the needle to induce different effects. A patient seeing a skilled acupuncturist does not need to worry about pain in general.
Two Main Schools Of Thought
There are two main schools of thought regarding the big question of: how does acupuncture work? The original school of thought agrees with the concept of TCM, which is based on the flow of energy (qi) and the school of thought which emerged from the 1970s, led by doctors such as Dr. Felix Mann which is a scientifically based system known asmedical acupuncture today. Let’s examine a little these two different schools of thought.
1 – Traditional Acupuncture
In order to understand the traditional acupuncture model we need to have a basic appreciation of the traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) concept of disease.
Disease in TCM is considered to occur when there is a lack of harmony between the interactions or functioning of qi, yin, yan, xu?, zàng-f?, meridians as well as/or possibly an imbalance between the human body and its environmental surroundings.
To cure the disease the TCM practitioner needs to identify the pattern of disharmony, which for example can also be caused by an invasion of damp, cold or wind. Proponents of this ancient healing practice believe that the body contains at least 350 acupuncture points that lie along the 12 meridians or channels of the body.
Once the pattern is identified in TCM it is commonly treated with acupuncture and/or herbs.
A traditional acupuncturist will carry out a traditional diagnosis and know which points to insert the acupuncture needles to have the best result. Expert acupuncturists can determine the root cause of a disease by inspecting the patient’s tongue, breathing, smell of breath, sound of the voice and strength of the pulse. The intensity of acupuncture treatments given to patients vary depending on the results of the diagnosis.
2 – Medical Acupuncture
Medical acupuncture is best explained in the concept of neuroscience. It is believed that acupuncture plays a vital role in treating and preventing the onset of diseases by accessing and stimulating the acupuncture points in the body.
There is quite a bit of research which shows that acupuncture promotes overall health and fitness by stimulating the central nervous system to produce chemicals and hormones to the spinal cord, brain and muscles of the body.
These chemicals can either lessen the intensity of pain or trigger the production of other hormones and chemicals that can help in regulating the body’s internal functions and processes. The increased production of chemicals and hormones helps in stimulating and enhancing the body’s natural restorative, therapeutic and healing abilities thereby promoting a healthy emotional and physical being.
When the needles are inserted into the acupuncture points, it stimulates the nerve fibres to send nerve impulse to the spinal cord. It further stimulates the production of endorphins such as dynorphin and enkephalin that inhibit pain.
When the nerve fibres are stimulated, it also sends nerve signals to certain areas of the mid-brain that is responsible for the production of enkephalin which is a precursor to the production of monoamine transmitters like norepinephrine and serotonin. These monoamine transmitters play vital roles in suppressing the transmission of pain signals. Meanwhile, serotonin is scientifically proven to have anti-depressant effects to the brain aside from the fact that it reduces the intensity of pain.
Acupuncture is also beneficial in the production of adrenocorticotropic and beta-endorphin hormones. Endorphins provide immediate pain relief while adrenocorticotropic stimulates the adrenal gland to produce cortisol which is known for its anti-inflammatory effects.
Japanese v Chinese Acupuncture
Japanese and Chinese have different ways of conducting acupuncture. After a thorough investigation, a Japanese acupuncturist checks the pulse to determine where the needles should be inserted. Meanwhile, a Chinese acupuncturist checks the pulse once and examines the tongue to find out the activities that are taking place inside the body.
The Chinese believed that a disruption in the natural flow of energy or qi in the body can trigger the onset of different kinds of diseases. Furthermore, the lack of harmony between the mind and the body can cause an imbalance which can commence the development of diseases.
As well as different approaches and schools of thought, there are also a variety of different types of acupuncture.
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