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To learn more about alternative medicine, download our “Guide to Understanding Acupuncture ” Download Here →

Introduction to Acupuncture & Traditional Chinese Medicine

Traditional Chinese medicine comprises a broad range of medicinal practices sharing common concepts. Included in it’s various forms are herbal medicine, acupuncture, massage (Tui na), exercise (qigong), and dietary therapy. Modern Chinese medicine combines concepts of modern anatomy and physiology with traditional Chinese medicine diagnosis and treatment.

I consider myself a modernist and look to combine the the right therapies for the patient and their issues. Having traveled the world in the exploration of alternative therapies, I understand that there is much to be learned from every culture and healing is part science and part art.

What fascinates me about Traditional Chinese medicine is that it uses a philosophical approach that addresses the whole body.  Developed in China and based on a tradition of more than 5,000 years it is one of the oldest documented alternative therapies available in the world today. It is based on the philosophy that illness is the consequence of an imbalance of forces. It aims to restore healthy balance in the patient’s entire body. Acupuncture is a form of Chinese medicine and is rooted in the belief that all illnesses, aches and pains come from imbalances, or stagnation, in the body’s natural energy. This is known as Chi (Qi), and terms, like meridian, are tossed about to describe the natural flow of energy.  Through approximately 350 acupuncture points on the body, these flows of energy are accessible by inserting long, thin needles with the appropriate combinations to bring the energy flow back into proper balance and promote healing.

Taking the Mystery Out of Chinese Medicine

Because Western philosophies usually include a great deal of questioning how and why something works in correlation to physical science, Chinese medicine often seems somewhat mystical to the medical community.  The two seem completely contradictory of each other, though when accepted and allowed, they both work very well together hand-in-hand.

The most widely used acupuncture technique involves penetrating the skin with a thin, solid, metallic needle. The needle is then manipulated by the acupuncturist or by use of electrical stimulation. The treatment is sometimes combined with massage, heat or herbal medicine. Some states require that an acupuncturist be licensed and undergo rigorous studies for years. These studies include learning about the philosophies of western medicine. Doctors who practice western medicine, on the other hand, are not required to learn about the philosophies behind Oriental practices. In this sense, a well trained acupuncturist can provide a rounded perspective of both Western and alternative medical practices.

A Perfect Combination

Regardless of whether it is scientifically or philosophically explained, Acupuncture is gaining popularity as more medical doctors discover how it benefits their patients. At the same time, many patients are requesting that it be used in combination with traditional treatments to ease discomfort, pain and nausea, and to increase healing time.

More and more hospitals have acupuncture and alternative therapy departments designed to work alongside hospital staff to provide well-rounded care that takes care of the patient with a holistic approach, as opposed to focusing only on a specific ailment.

Of course, if the patient is in an emergency situation like suffering from some impact, trauma or deep puncture wound, the first manner of business should be to get to am emergency room.  Afterwards, acupuncture may be used to help in recovering and managing pain.

Just because acupuncture is generally considered, by westerners, to be a philosophical approach doesn’t mean there is no science behind it.  You don’t have to completely embrace the beliefs of yin and yan, which symbolizes harmonious balance, to reap the benefits of acupuncture treatments.  I find there is no reason to feel pressured to choose between the two approaches. Patients who have opted to use acupuncture to compliment or enhance western medicine have discovered that their healing process is less painful and more calming.

There is No Magic

There is so much that is unexplained about the mechanics of our minds and bodies for both Western and Chinese alike. We have the tendency to look at healing as a miracle, and when you are the one being healed, it is. Yet, acupuncture is not intended to be a quick fix that jolts the body to sudden improvement. Like all good doctors, an acupuncturist examines each patient individually and treats the patient by looking for ways to improve their total wellbeing. Successful acupuncture treatment usually requires at least three treatments before the patient sees substantial change. However, many are surprised at the relief they feel after just one treatment.

The Science Behind the Medicine

In Western cultures, where medicine is widely practiced through identifying symptoms to isolate an illness and treatment is done through the use of prescription medications or surgery, doctors and patients are often skeptical and demand a more scientific explanation. One good explanation is rooted in concepts of neuroscience.

Putting acupuncture into scientific terms is helpful for those of the traditional medicine mindset. The acupuncture points are scientifically explained as places where connective tissue, nerves and muscles are accessible for stimulation. By using the needles for stimulation, it increases blood flow while simultaneously triggering the release of endorphins which are the human body’s natural painkillers.  Acupuncture actually consists of a collection of procedures that use needling. It taps into the scientifically proven idea that neurological activity has the ability to be redirected, relearned, or re-programmed to invoke healing. This is known as neuroplasticity.

Clinical Tests

Clinical results have been documented and observed by use of fMRI technology that shows the brain’s amygdala is calmed, or sedated, during the use of acupuncture. Some major, well-respected traditional medical facilities have conducted clinical trials and come to the conclusions that acupuncture is successful when used in correlation with western medicine. Some of these trials include results from the Mayo Clinic, the Cochrane review, and the Center for Integrative Medicine at UC Irvine.

What Conditions does acupuncture treat?

Acupuncture has been shown to help ailments such as:

  • Post-surgery discomfort
  • Nausea from chemotherapy
  • Fertility & infertility issues
  • Morning sickness
  • Headaches and migraines
  • Low back pain
  • Pain from fibromyalgia and osteoarthritis
Alternative Care in The US Military

The United States Military was perhaps one of the first major forces to catch onto the benefits of acupuncture. For a few years now, the Air Force has been teaching what is referred to as “Battlefield Acupuncture” that deployed physicians put into practice on sick and wounded servicemen and women. The result was cost effective as well as it produced a reduction in the amount of painkillers needed to be dispensed after surgical procedures.

Let me know your experiences with acupuncture and Chinese medicine. Leave a comment below and I’ll be sure to respond.



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