ACUPUNCTURE: EXPLORING THE HEALING POWERS OF FINE NEEDLES
Acupuncture is the considered as the most widely regulated and preserved form of Chinese Traditional Medicine. It simply involves the insertion of tiny and fine needles into specific channels or meridians located near or on the surface of the body. It is age-long practice that can be traced back to Stone Age in China when stone knives and pointed rocks were used to relieve pains. Further advancement led to the replacement of these stones with needles made of bamboo and silvers of animal bone and finally fine metal needles.
The basic principle in acupuncture is that there are channels in the body filled with life force, energy or Qi. These channels, otherwise called meridians are known to circulate Qi (pronounced as chee) or vital energy across the systems and organs of the body. Illness arises when the cyclical flow of Qi in the meridians becomes blocked or unbalanced. This is particularly because in Chinese Medicine, the individual is seen as an energy system in which body and mind are unified, each balancing and influencing the activities of the other. The basis of acupuncture is summarized thus: “free flow: no pain, no free flow: pain.”
The World Health Organization summarizes the health benefits of acupuncture as: to treat ailments that cannot be easily managed with western form of medicine, to cure or mediate pains and to procure anaesthesia for surgery. Acupuncture recognizes 14 regular channels and 8 extraordinary channels in the human body through which energy flows. The 14 channels include lung, pericardium, heart, small intestine, large intestine, spleen, liver, kidney, bladder, gall bladder, stomach and triple energizer channels or meridians.
Although it is a Chinese medicine, it has spread to other cultures and populations and has gained wide acceptance due to its healing benefits. It has been practiced in the Germany, Australia, Europe, Asia and Africa. The widespread of acupuncture in the United States is noteworthy with some of the world’s most famous institutions adopting it. It is used in Harvard University, Johns Hopkins University and Stanford University among others.
HOW DOES ACUPUNCTURE WORKS
Acupuncture works by stimulating the areas of defined electrical sensitivity. Inserting needles at these points stimulates various sensory receptors and subsequently, the nerves that transmit impulses to the hypothalamic-pituitary system are stimulated. The hypothalamus-pituitary glands are responsible for releasing neurotransmitters and endorphins known as the body’s natural pain-killing or analgesic hormones. Additionally, endorphins play important roles in the functioning of the hormonal system. This explains why acupuncture works like magic for conditions such as pains, premenstrual syndrome and frozen shoulder.
During the process of inserting acupuncture needle into the skin, commonly referred to as needling, the body experiences some physiological effects which include increased circulation, decreased inflammation, relief from pain and muscle spasm and increased T-cell which correspond to increase in the immune function.
The chemical substances released during needling also regulate the serotonin levels in the brain which enhance human and animal disposition, thus, acupuncture has been found beneficial in the treatment of depression. The feeling noticed during needling has been broadly categorized into sedative and objective effects. The subjective effects include numbness, soreness, heaviness, distension and radiation while the objective effects are analgesic, homeostatic, immune enhancing, motor recovery, psychological, gynaecological and sedative effects.
The list of diseases treated by acupuncture is in exhaustive. Some of them include stroke, arthritis, sciatica, cerebral palsy, high blood pressure, angina pectoris, atherosclerosis, earache, dizziness, nerve deafness, knee and shoulder pain, among others.
Acupuncture is generally safe and free from any side effect when done by a certified acuncturist. There are universities and colleges that run 3-5 years training in acupuncture in different parts of the world and different countries have different licensing requirements for acupuncturists. Among the generally recognized certificates are M.D (Acu), Dipl. Ac. (Diplomate of Acupuncture) or Dipl. O.M (Diplomate of Oriental Medicine). Sometimes, a lincenced acupuncturist usually have the suffix, L. Ac. After his or her, meaning Licensed Acupuncturist. A licensed acupuncturist will ask you a set of questions and diagnose you appropriately to determine the best point and depth of needling. A chronic illness often require longer duration (mostly months) to experience noticeable effect.