Acupuncture is a system of complementary medicine that involves pricking the skin or tissues with needles, used to alleviate pain and to treat various physical, mental, and emotional conditions. Originating in ancient China, acupuncture is now widely practiced in the West. Although there are records of acupuncture being used hundreds of years ago in Europe, it was during the second half of the twentieth century it began to spread rapidly in Western Europe, the United States and Canada.
Acupuncture involves the insertion of very thin needles through the patient’s skin at specific points on the body. The needles are inserted to various depths. Scientists are not sure how acupuncture works. Traditional Chinese medicine explains that health is the result of a harmonious balance of the complementary extremes of yin and yan of the life force known as gi or chi. This eneryy is said to flow through meridians (pathways) in the human body. Through 350 acupuncture points in the body, these meridians and energy flows may be accessed. Illness is said to be the consequence of an imbalance of the forces. If needles are inserted into these points with appropriate combinations it is said that the energy flow can be brought back into proper balance.
In Western societies, acupuncture is explained using concepts of neuroscience. Acupuncture points are seen by Western practitioners as places where nerves, muscles and connective tissue can be stimulated. Acupuncture practitioners say that the stimulation increases blood flow while at the same time triggering the activity of the body’s own natural painkillers.
An article in a peer-reviewed British Medical Journal explains that the principles of acupuncture are firmly grounded in science, and do not need Chinese philosophy either to make it work, or to practice it. According to WHO (World Health Organization) acupuncture is effective for treating 28 conditions, while evidence indicates it may have an effective therapeutic value for many more. People with tension headaches and/or migraines may find acupuncture to be very effective in alleviating their symptoms, according to a study carried out at the Technical University of Munich, Germany. Another study at the University of Texas M. D. Anderson Cancer Center found that twice weekly acupuncture treatments relieve debilitating symptoms of xerostomia - severe dry mouth - among patients treated with radiation for head and neck cancer.
Even though acupuncture is commonly used on its own for some conditions, it is becoming very popular as a combination treatment by doctors in Western Europe and North America. The use of acupuncture to alleviate pain and nausea after surgery is becoming more widespread. Even the US Air Force began teaching “Battlefield Acupuncture” to physicians deploying to Iraq and Afghanistan in early 2009. Using acupuncture before and during surgery significantly reduces the level of pain and the amount of potent painkillers needed by patients after the surgery is over, a recent study revealed. When performed correctly, acupuncture is generally safe with few side effects. It is not recommended, however, for patients who are taking blood thinners or have bleeding disorders.
As more and more physicians accept acupuncture, a wider range of illnesses and condition are being considered for acupuncture treatment. For example, a study found that acupuncture may help indigestion symptoms commonly experienced by pregnant women.