Today in most western cultures acupuncture is considered a "new alternative" medicine. In reality Acupuncture treatment is over 5,000 years old. Very basically, Acupuncture is the insertion of very fine needles, (sometimes in conjunction with electrical stimulus), on the body's surface, in order to influence physiological functioning of the body. 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. It is said to have been written down from even earlier theories by Shen Nung, the father of Chinese Medicine. Shen Nung documented theories about circulation, pulse, and the heart over 4,000 years before European medicine had any concept about them.
As the basis of Acupuncture, Shen Nung theorized that the body had an energy force running throughout it. This energy force is known as Qi. 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 Meridians, (or Channels), are the same on both sides of the body (paired). There are fourteen main meridians running vertically up and down the surface of the body, with a total of 361 points. Out of these, there are twelve organ Meridians in each half of the body (remember they are in pairs). There are also two unpaired midline Meridians. The acupuncture points are specific locations where the Meridians come to the surface of the skin, and are easily accessible by "needling,”. The connections between them ensure that there is an even circulation of Qi, a balance between Yin and Yang. Energy constantly flows up and down these pathways. When pathways become obstructed, deficient, excessive, or just unbalanced, Yin and Yang are said to be thrown out of balance. This causes illness. Acupuncture is said to restore the balance.
Yin and Yang is an important theory in the discussion of Acupuncture treatment, in relation to the Chinese theory of body systems. As stated earlier Qi is an energy force that runs throughout the body. In addition, Qi is also prevalent throughout nature as well. Qi is comprised of two parts, Yin and Yang. Yin and Yang are opposite forces, that when balanced, work together. Any upset in the balance will result in natural calamities, in nature; and disease in humans. Yin is signified by female attributes, passive, dark, cold, moist, that which moves medially, and deficient of Yang. Yang is signified by male attributes, light, active, warm, dry, that which moves laterally, and deficient of Yin. Nothing is completely Yin or Yang. The most striking example of this is man himself. A man is the combination of his mother (Yin) and his father (Yang). He contains qualities of both: This is the universal symbol describing the constant flow of yin and yang forces.
Needles used today are disposable and are no longer considered investigational by the FDA. The needles are used once and discarded in accordance with medical biohazard regulations and guidelines. When a needle is inserted a slight sensation is felt by the patient. This sensation, which is not pain, is called deqi (pronounced dah-chee).
A very commonly used treatment in the United States is Auriculotherapy or Ear Acupuncture. The theory is that since the ear has a rich nerve and blood supply, it would have connections all over the body. For this reason, the ear has many Acupuncture points which correspond to many parts and organs of the body.
Auricular Acupuncture has been successful in treating problems ranging from obesity to alcoholism, to drug addiction. There are numerous studies either completed, or currently going on which affirms Auricular Acupuncture's effectiveness.
The question arises, how does Acupuncture work? As research continues today there are a few theories of how acupuncture affects the body.
Overall, it is theorized that acupuncture stimulates the secretion of the endorphins to decrease pain.
The "Neurotransmitter" Theory states that certain neurotransmitter levels (such as Serotonin and Noradrenalin) are affected by Acupuncture.
"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. I normally explain that even though there is no blood letting with acupuncture, that because we are piercing the skin the body reacts as if we received a cut and we get an immune response throughout.
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” syndromes. 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 fibers that carry the impulses of pain are rather small nerve fibers called “C” fibers. These are the gates that close during Acupuncture.
There are many diseases that can be treated successfully by Acupuncture or its related treatments. The National Institute of Health has stated that acupuncture may help certain addictions, headaches, osteoarthritis, low back pain, carpal tunnel syndrome, tennis elbow, fibromyalgia, asthma, postchemotherapy from breast cancer and other pains.