Alternative Medicine - What Happens During Acupuncture Treatment
by A. James Hillelson
Acupuncture is one of several popular alternative therapies tracing its roots to traditional medicine in China more than 5,000 years ago. Although the treatment is regarded as one of the most common and oldest worldwide, acupuncture only started to become recognized in the US after New York Times journalist James Reston wrote a feature on how his post-surgery pain was eased by doctors in China in 1971 using the procedure.
1. The Basis Of Acupuncture
The treatment assumes something called qi (pronounced key) - energy in living beings that passes through twelve meridians or invisible energy lines in the body. Each line links to a specific organ system; the belief is that any imbalance in qi flow leads to a disease. The key component of acupuncture treatment is the insertion of needles into key points on the meridian lines to renew balance. These extremely thin, metallic needles are aimed at specific anatomical points and controlled manually or by electrical stimulation. An individual usually feels relaxed and energized after acupuncture.
2. Modern Treatment
The US Food and Drug Administration reclassified these needles as medical devices in 1997, from the earlier classification as experimental. The FDA notes that over $500m are spent by people in the country every year for the treatment, for which a good number secure insurance coverage. The agency's main restrictions with the needles are that they be non-toxic and sterilized and that they be used only once and discarded immediately after.
- Acupuncture is endorsed by the National Institute of Health
- Is practiced by dentists, doctors and other health practitioners
3. Increasing Acceptance
Increasing acceptance of acupuncture was highlighted by the National Health Interview Survey in 2002, which indicated that the number of American adults turning to the treatment surged from 2.1 million in 2001 to about 8.2 million the following year. The interest in acupuncture also received a boost from the impatience individuals had with the failure of conventional medicine.
4. How Does It Really Work?
Acupuncture reportedly induces the release of endorphins in the body, relieving an indivudal from pain. Other effects attributed to the therapy include influence over neurotransmitters, or substances transporting nerve impulses; promotion of circulation; and effects over the body's electrical currents and autonomic nervous system. Many common ailments and undesirable conditions are addressed by acupuncture treatment.
5. Commonly Treated Conditions
- The common cold
- Smoking and other addictions
- Tennis elbow
- Menstrual cramps
- Low-back pain
- Carpal tunnel syndrome
On the first meeting, acupuncturists usually ask new clients to fill up a personal health record prior to an interview. A session then has the client answer questions that cover main health issues, diet, emotional and psychological profile, and overall lifestyle and regular activities. The therapist should also be informed by the individual of any current medication and treatment being taken. During this interview, one can also expect the practitioner to evaluate pulse points and establish how healthy the individual's twelve meridians are. A diagnosis is then given, followed by the use of between 6 and 12 needles as treatment is commenced. Patients keen on acupuncture must realize that the exact placement on target points on the meridians is more important, not the number of needles used.
The initial insertion may make the patient feel pricked or stung. However, the treatment should be painless and comfortable for the duration that could extend to an hour or more. An individual should immediately tell the acupuncturist to discontinue if he feels any numbness, discomfort or pain. Variations of the treatment may involve use of herbal medicine - capsules, tablets or tea made from Chinese herbs to boost the therapy. Some practitioners also integrate cupping - a suction effect created with the use of glass cups on the skin, in part to promote blood circulation and continuous qi flow.
7. Rising Popularity
The recent withdrawal of the Vioxx painkiller has raised apprehension over pain relievers available in the market. This concern, combined with statements from the NIH and other government and health organizations that side effects from acupuncture are significantly lower, has made more individuals turn to the treatment, particularly for pain relief. Several studies have also shown how acupuncture has helped patients with osteoarthritis, post-chemotherapy nausea and even depression. Despite all the apparent positive feedback, those considering acupuncture should still consult regular doctors and health-care professionals for advice on their conditions first. If they decide to pursue the treatment, they must make sure that the acupuncturist or practitioner they see is highly-qualified and certified by organizations such as the American Academy of Medical Acupuncturists.
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