Acupuncture is among the oldest healing practices in the world which focuses on healing within a unified system of body, mind and spirit. As part of traditional Chinese medicine (TCM), acupuncture aims to restore and maintain health through the stimulation of specific points on the body in conjunction with herbal, massage, diet and exercise therapies to maximize health, prevent illness and treat disease . In the United States, where practitioners incorporate healing traditions from China, Japan, Korea, and other countries, acupuncture is considered part of complementary and alternative medicine (CAM).
The term "acupuncture" describes a family of procedures involving the stimulation of anatomical points on the body using a variety of techniques. The acupuncture technique that has been most often studied scientifically involves penetrating the skin with thin, solid, metallic needles that are manipulated by the hands or by electrical stimulation.
In TCM (Traditional Chinese Medicine), the body is seen as a delicate balance of two opposing and inseparable forces: yin and yang. Yin represents the cold, slow, or passive principle, while yang represents the hot, excited, or active principle. According to TCM, health is achieved by maintaining the body in a "balanced state"; disease is due to an internal imbalance of yin and yang. This imbalance leads to blockage in the flow of qi (vital energy) along pathways known as meridians. Qi can be unblocked, according to TCM, by using acupuncture at certain points on the body that connect with these meridians. Sources vary on the number of meridians, with numbers ranging from 14 to 20. One commonly cited source describes meridians as 14 main channels "connecting the body in a weblike interconnecting matrix" of at least 2,000 acupuncture points.
Acupuncture works through the insertion of very fine, sterile needles at specific points to stimulate the body’s production of its own natural pain killers (endorphins), anti-inflammatory agents, and hormones. The goal of treatment is to achieve biochemical balance, improve energy, and promote both physical and emotional well being.
Recent research has elucidated some of the physiologic and biochemical bases of acupuncture. Acupuncture stimulation has been shown to release central nervous system endorphins and spinal cord dynorphins, explaining part of its mechanism of action. It has also been shown to promote the release of the chemical that activates the adrenal glands (adrenocorticotrophic hormone or ACTH), affect chemicals that are known to be involved in mood and pain perception (serotonin, GABA, catecholamines, dopamine, etc), and influence one of the body's pain-generating messengers (substance P). While its effects have traditionally been explained in terms of energy flow dynamics (Qi or Chi), science has shown that acupuncture may work at least partly by directly affecting the function of the nervous system (Han, 1986; Kaptchuk, 2002; Wu, 1999).
Additionally, the World Health Organization recognizes the ability of acupuncture and Traditional Chinese Medicine to treat over 43 common disorders (see below). Acupuncture has also been effective in treating other conditions in which there is no clear explanation or origin for its cause. Many seek acupuncture to maximize their wellbeing and to maintain balance as part of a preventative medicine protocol.
Conditions Recommended for Acupuncture by the World Health Organization
Acute and chronic gastritis
Chronic duodenal ulcer
Acute and chronic colitis
Acute bacterial dysentery
Disorders of the Mouth Cavity
Low back pain
Emotional and Psychological Disorders
Urinary tract infections
Chronic Fatigue Syndrome