Acupuncture is an alternative therapeutic technique that originated in China over 3,000 years ago, and which has been increasingly embraced by both Western culture and Western medicine. More than ten million acupuncture treatments are administered in the United States each year, and the growing number of Americans who are choosing the modality can be attributed to both anecdotal and evidence-based reports of its effectiveness in treating pain.
Acupuncture has been proven to reduce the adverse side effects of cancer treatment, to stimulate immune function and to reduce the symptoms of chronic disease. It relieves anxiety and depression and increases health and overall wellbeing. Notably, its ability to address pain has led The Veterans Administration (VA), America’s Health Insurance Plans (AHIP) and the American College of Physicians to endorse acupuncture as an approved non-opioid pain management technique.
In recent years acupuncturists have seen an increase in interest from practitioners of Western medicine, and many traditional medical physicians are now referring patients to acupuncture as a complementary therapy to their standard of care.
The History of Acupuncture
The first written reference to acupuncture as an organized system of diagnosis and treatment appeared approximately 3,000 years ago, though archaeologists have unearthed sharpened tools and instruments that may have been used far earlier. The established system of meridians that provide practitioners with a map of how the stimulatory treatment should be applied has evolved over the centuries, though different cultures have each interpreted the practice in their own ways.
Though acupuncture was briefly practiced in the United States in the early part of the 19th century it was largely disregarded until 1971, when a member of the press pool traveling to China in advance of President Nixon’s historic visit required an emergency appendectomy. His description of his own experience of the protocol during his recovery generated significant interest, and nearly three decades later the National Institute of Health published a report indicating its effectiveness in the treatment of certain conditions.
The Philosophy Behind Acupuncture
Traditional Chinese Medicine is based on the idea that the body’s health and wellbeing are integrated with nature, and are at their best when everything is in harmony. Using the contrasting but interconnected forms of energy Yin and Yang as its foundation, Chinese Medicine seeks balance as the optimal state in all things, and views illness and pain as a loss of equilibrium that needs to be restored. Energy called “qi” flows along meridians that keep the body functioning properly. When this energy gets blocked or moves improperly, the resulting disruption leads to pain and illness. Traditional Chinese Medicine and acupuncture stimulates and releases blocked qi, allowing it to travel properly through the channels to restore normal function.
Modern Acupuncture Practice
Acupuncture is an exacting therapy that is based on specific anatomical locations on the human body. These points are mapped to 12 primary channels — called meridians — through which Qi (vital life energy), Xue (blood), Jinye (body fluids), Jing (essence), and Shen (spirit) flows. Traditional Chinese medicine views the stimulation of these points in terms of releasing qi.
While these meridians are invisible, their ability to successfully trigger chemical, electrical, neurological and hormonal processes in the body has been successfully measured and verified by Western medicine research.
Despite having a different paradigm of classification and understanding of the body, Western medicine has explored the physiological impact of needling and has delivered a variety of theories. One is that acupuncture stimulates nerves to send signals to the brain and changes the way that pain is perceived. Another is that biochemical responses are activated, affecting organs that produce hormones and other biochemicals. Still another postulates that acupuncture reduces inflammatory markers. The lack of a conclusive answer rests in the fact that studies have shown each of these ideas to be true.
What Happens on My First Visit?
Practitioners of acupuncture will begin by asking about your health history, then proceed to a physical examination that will include examining your tongue, taking your pulse, and checking acupoints. Based on the results of this examination they will insert sterile, single-use, thin stainless-steel needles into specific acupuncture points. Points are chosen based both on symptoms and to rectify the root imbalance. The needles will typically remain in place for between 20 and 40 minutes.
Conditions Treated by Acupuncture
There are many reasons to seek treatment from an acupuncturist, but the most common include treatment of lower back pain and chronic pain, and for relief from the side effects of cancer treatment. Acupuncture is a therapy that promotes wellness, and clinical studies have proven acupuncture effective in the treatment of many conditions, including:
- Seasonal allergies
- Digestive disorders
- PMS, Dysmenorrhea
- Hot flashes and other symptoms of menopause
Acupuncture at Empirical Point Acupuncture
Sharon Sherman has been licensed to practice acupuncture and Chinese Medicine since 2001. She holds the highest credential available from both the Pennsylvania State Board of Medicine and the National Certification Commission for Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine. Sharon has deep knowledge and understanding of how acupuncture and Chinese medicine modalities can provide relief and numerous health benefits for the unique range of issues experienced by her patients.