Acupuncture is an ancient form of TCM (Traditional Chinese Medicine) involving the insertion of solid filiform acupuncture needles into the skin at specific points on the body to achieve a therapeutic effect. No drug is injected. The needles alone create the beneficial effects of acupuncture. Acupuncture is used to encourage natural healing, improve mood and energy, reduce of relieve pain and improve function of affected areas of the body. It is safe and effective and is often successfully used as an alternative to medications or surgery.
Acupuncture needles are solid stainless steel, measure 13-70 mm and are very fine, flexible and rounded but sharp at the tip. They are ‘atraumatic’, meaning that they do not have a cutting edge like a hypodermic needle, which slices through tissue. Their design allows acupuncture needles to slide smoothly through tissues and makes them unlikely to cause bleeding or damage to underlying structures. Acupuncture points (also referred to as ‘acupoints’) are placed on the skin that have a lower resistance to the passage of electricity than the surrounding skin and are part of a network of points that were mapped centuries ago by the Chinese. Most acupuncture points are found along ‘meridians’ or ‘channels’ that are believed to be the pathways by which energy or Qi (pronounced ‘Chee’) flows through the body. Acupoints are located either by identifying anatomical landmarks or by the TCM classic method.
A dull, heavy, or aching feeling often occurs when the needle is correctly placed. The needles are left in place for 15-30 minutes, and the practitioner may manipulate the needles to strengthen or reduce the flow of Qi or use electro-acupuncture, which are needles electrically stimulated by various frequencies and voltages by attachment to a battery-powered machine using wires with small clips on the ends.
How Acupuncture works
It is fortunate that TCM is not based on science. This fact acknowledges TCM’s value in solving health-related problems that confound science-based modern medicine. Often modern medical knowledge with its emphasis on studying the minute details about a condition misses the big picture one sees when symptoms are viewed through the eyes of a TCM physician. Using that knowledge often leads to a successful outcome for an ill person that was impossible with western medicine.
TCM, which includes acupuncture, is based on a paradigm of balance in nature, a concept that has existed for millennia, originating Taoism. The heart of the paradigm is the belief that there exists in nature and in the human body, energy, referred to as Qi. In order to be healthy one must have sufficient Qi, it must be balanced and it must be free-flowing within the body in a pattern that is specific to the Qi related to each of several identified organs. Blood and body fluids ground and nourish Qi to created balance so Qi can move freely in the meridians. Traditionally, acupuncture’s effects are explained by how it influences Qi. Qi is believed to flow through ‘meridians’ or ‘channels’ along with blood and body fluids. These meridians make up a conceptual network of pathways through the entire body. The word ‘meridian’ comes from the French translation of the Chinese term ‘jing-luo’, which means ‘to go through’ and ‘something that connects or attaches’. According to TCM theory, Qi is maintained throughout life by the intake of food, water and air. Everything in nature is classified as being either yin (cold, female, dark, inside, etc) or yang (hot, male, light, outside, etc). Under healthy circumstances, the body maintains a state of balance (between yin and yang) when Qi is moving smoothly through the meridians.
If there is an imbalance in yin and yang or if the movement of Qi is deficient, obstructed, moving in the wrong direction, or in excess, the body may be in a diseased state or more susceptible to illness. In TCM, acupuncture is used to stimulate points either along meridians or points that lie outside these pathways that may connect two meridians, to correct the imbalance. A TCM doctor will diagnose and treat the root and branches or the underlying imbalance and symptoms of the disease or disorder. In this way, acupuncture treats not only the symptoms, but addresses the root cause of the underlying problem and may also prevent further illness.
The Needle Effect:
Any form of acupuncture, electroacupuncture or dry needling has a so-called ‘puncture phenomenon’ and a ‘needle effect’, and so has any injection therapy that penetrates the skin or touches any other subcutaneous structures (e.g. muscle, peripheral nerve, ligament, vessel) in the body during treatment.
According to Gunn, (Gunn C, Treatment of chronic pain, New York: Churchill Livingstone, 1996), dry needling not only produces local inflammation, effects after needling are evoked by several reflectory reaction mechanisms; in spite of a lot of unknown or the proposed theories speculator.
According to Heine, (Heine H, Matrix and Matrix Regulation, Brussels: Haug Int, 1991), the puncture with an injection or acupuncture needle works in three ways:
- Tissue injury
- Difference in temperature between needle and tissue
- Difference in electrical potential between needle and tissue
Electrical stimuli spread very rapidly through the ground system and the entire nervous system, thus evoking a reaction of the entire body (similar to someone who faints after inoculation.)
The ‘needle effect’ is an immediate or late result of the ‘puncture phenomenon’. The ‘needle effect’ is the totality of clinical effects evoked during or after needling the body. Such an effect can be local (at the site of needle penetration) and more important also at a distance. A similar phenomenon can be seen when throwing a stone in a lake: one can easily observe the waves proceeding as growing circles to the periphery that provoke effects at a distance from the source. Every stimulus that overcomes the local defense can trigger a nonspecific reaction in the entire regulatory system. Especially in the treatment of pain, this needle effect can be very important, e.g. by release of opioid peptides (including endorphins, enkephalins and dynorphins) in the central nervous system.