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What is acupuncture and how does it work “traditionally”?
Acupuncture is a branch of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) that focuses on utilizing the body’s natural energies to restore health. Early Chinese physicians described energy pathways (meridians) that course between the surface of the body and internal organs. These meridians circulate “Qi,” (pronounced ‘chee’) or vital life energy. Qi regulates spiritual, emotional, mental, and physical balance. Qi is influenced by the opposing forces called yin and yang. Everything in nature has both yin and yang. According to TCM when yin and yang are balanced they work together with the natural flow of qi to help the body achieve and maintain health. An imbalance of qi (too much, too little, or blocked flow) causes disease. Injury, exposure to the elements, and stress can cause blockages of this flow, resulting in pain, swelling, and other symptoms. To restore balance to the qi, an acupuncturist inserts needles to stimulate key acupuncture points along the meridians. Traditionally, acupuncture restores health to the body and mind by balancing yin and yang and keeping the normal flow of energy unblocked.
How does acupuncture work from a Western or modern medicine view?
The effects of acupuncture are complex. How it works is not entirely clear through the eyes of modern medicine. Research suggests that the needling process, and other techniques used in acupuncture, may produce a variety of effects in the body and the brain. One theory is that stimulated nerve fibers transmit signals to the spinal cord and brain, activating the body’s central nervous system. The spinal cord and brain then release hormones responsible for making us feel less pain while improving overall health. A study using images of the brain confirmed that acupuncture increases our pain threshold, which may explain why it produces long-term pain relief. Acupuncture may also increase blood circulation and body temperature, affect white blood cell activity (responsible for our immune function), reduce cholesterol and triglyceride levels, and regulate blood sugar levels.
What conditions can acupuncture treat?
Acupuncture is particularly effective for pain relief and for nausea and vomiting after surgery or chemotherapy. In addition, both the World Health Organization and the National Institutes of Health recognize that acupuncture can be a helpful part of a treatment plan for many illnesses. A partial list includes: addiction (such as alcoholism), asthma, bronchitis, carpal tunnel syndrome, constipation, diarrhea, facial tics, fibromyalgia, headaches, irregular menstrual cycles, polycystic ovarian syndrome, low back pain, menopausal symptoms, menstrual cramps, osteoarthritis, sinusitis, spastic colon (often called irritable bowel syndrome), stroke rehabilitation, tendinitis, tennis elbow, and urinary problems such as incontinence. The American Academy of Medical Acupuncture also lists a wide range of conditions for which acupuncture is appropriate. In addition to those listed above, they recommend acupuncture for sports injuries, sprains, strains, whiplash, neck pain, sciatica, nerve pain due to compression, overuse syndromes similar to carpal tunnel syndrome, pain resulting from spinal cord injuries, allergies, tinnitus (ringing in the ears), sore throat (called pharyngitis), high blood pressure, gastroesophageal reflux (felt as heartburn or indigestion), ulcers, chronic and recurrent bladder and kidney infections, premenstrual syndrome.
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