Acupuncture and Acupressure by Elizabeth Schoultz, MS, L.Ac.
Acupuncture is one of the oldest, most commonly used medical procedures in the world. Acupuncture has become a very popular form of complementary and alternative therapy in the United States (U.S.), with an estimated 3 million adults undergoing treatment annually.The core procedure in acupuncture involves stimulation of specific points on the body, acupoints, by insertion of fine needles. Typical treatments involve insertion of 5 to 20 needles at various depths. Traditional acupuncturists judge the effectiveness of their insertion by looking for a physiologic reaction called “de qi.” This is perceived as an aching or throbbing by the recipient and by a tightening of tissue around the needle point felt by the therapist. Needles are typically left in for less than 1 hour. Acupuncturists may increase the stimulation by manipulating the needles (periodically twirling the needles) or by applying heat or electrical stimulation to the needles. An alternative technique includes using laser rather than needles to stimulate acupoints.
The exact mechanism by which acupuncture works is unknown. Traditional Chinese acupuncture theory is based on the premise that a form of energy called “qi” travels along prescribed pathways or meridians within the body. This theory proposes that qi is responsible for maintaining good health by providing homeostatic regulation of vital body function. Excess or deficiency in the flow of qi is thought to result in disease. Stimulation of specific acupoints along the body’s meridians can restore balance in the qi and return the individual to health.
Scientists have studied acupuncture for decades and have proposed other theories more in keeping with biomedical concepts. Studies in the 1970s and 1980s suggest that acupuncture may work by modifying nerve function at the spinal and supraspinal levels. Roles have been suggested for cytokines, endorphins, and neurotransmitters but the physiologic mechanism of action is not known.”
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