Acupuncture is a method of supporting the body/mind systems in their own natural healing processes. Originating in East Asia over 2,000 years ago and perhaps much earlier than that, in its modern practice acupuncture forms a part of a rational, personalized, evidence-based system of effective healthcare. In addition to being used by practitioners of Traditional Chinese Medicine often titled as “Licensed or Certified Acupuncturists”, acupuncture is practiced by some Western medical doctors, veterinarians, chiropractors, and other healthcare professionals to treat people and animals with a wide variety of symptoms and conditions. Worldwide, well over one million healthcare practitioners use acupuncture to ease the suffering and restore the health and well-being of their patients.
How Does Acupuncture Work
Acupuncture involves the insertion of fine wires (needles) into specific spots to stimulate the body to heal itself. Traditional explanations of acupuncture involve its effect on improving the flow of qi (‘vital air/energy’ and referred to as ki by the Japanese) and on balancing Yin and Yang, a paradigm of health and disease that maps very closely to the Western concept of homeostasis. By stimulating specific points on the body with heat, pressure, or very fine needles, acupuncture practitioners are able to restore healthy function, thus resolving symptoms and reversing disease.
Due to its popularity and success in the West, a great deal of attention has been focused on elucidating how acupuncture works in terms of Western physiology. Based on classical descriptions overlain with modern understanding, we now know that qi flow corresponds to nerve transmission, connective tissue planes, metabolic components carried in blood such as oxygen, hormones, neurotransmitters and nutrients as well as the functional energy of an organ system, depending on the context in which it is used. Acupuncture has been demonstrated to regulate and improve the function of all of these components, which are so integral to health. In essence, acupuncture seems to “grease the wheels” of the dynamics of body/mind self-regulating functions.
In terms of physiology and biochemistry, acupuncture has been shown to stimulate nerves and connective tissue resulting in profound effects on the nervous system including regulation of key areas of the brain. This improved function results in the body producing its own natural chemicals involved in pain relief and the reduction of inflammation as well as releasing neurotransmitters that create a feeling of relaxation and well-being. Advanced techniques such as fMRI brain imaging and proteomics are continuing to add to a deeper understanding of how acupuncture helps the body to heal itself.
The Practice of Acupuncture
From its ancient roots in Traditional Chinese Medicine, modern acupuncture now finds itself used in a diverse set of healthcare contexts. Acupuncture is now used by physiotherapists and chiropractors to treat musculoskeletal pain, by medical doctors to treat migraines and nausea, by midwives to assist with births, by the U.S. Military to aid in the safe transport of wounded soldiers and by drug and alcohol support workers to help treat addiction. Many different styles of practice and traditions exist, including TCM, Five Elements, Japanese acupuncture, Stems & Branches, Western Medical Acupuncture and many others. Because it is so safe when practiced by qualified practitioners and it uses the body’s own healing mechanisms, it lends itself to inclusion in a diverse array of healthcare contexts.