Dr. Gray's Straight Talk

Honest and blunt healthcare discussion and advice.

Acupuncture – What Is It?

Posted by Dr. Gray on Monday, October 13, 2008

Historians have stated, “More people have benefited from Acupuncture over the course of fifty centuries than the combined total of all other healing sciences, both ancient and modern.”

That’s a pretty profound statement when you consider the advancements in healthcare over the past hundred years. I am regularly asked to explain acupuncture to our patients. I’ve decided… that there’s really no easy way to describe it! Yes, there are varied canned responses and textbook definitions, but they, too, are filled with theories and assumptions.

From the International Academy of Medical Acupuncture:

Acupuncture, simply stated, is a health science which is used to successfully treat both pain and dysfunction in the body.

Acupuncture has its roots deeply planted in China. In fact, authorities agree the science is between 5,000 and 7,000 years old. Its use spread throughout ancient Egypt, the Middle East, the Roman Empire and later into Western Europe as merchants and missionaries to China told of the amazing discoveries the people of the Orient had developed. Acupuncture did not become known on a national level in the US until 1971 when diplomatic relations between China and America were relaxed.

At first glimpse, Acupuncture appears strange, as its primary notoriety is the utilization of needles placed in the skin at various locations to relieve pain or affect a body part.

Early Chinese physicians discovered there is an energy network traversing just below the surface of the skin which communicates from the exterior to the internal organs and structures over 1,000 “Acupoints” on the body. This energy works in harmony with the body’s circulatory, nervous, muscular, digestive, genitourinary and all other systems of the body. When this vital energy becomes blocked or weakened, an effect in a body system or anatomic location becomes evident. Stimulation of one or a combination of key “Acupoints” on the body may restore harmony to the affected area.

Personally, I think the study of acupuncture and what we know of it is about to explode. We have come so far in the ability to measure energy, magnetism, electromagnetic fields, bioelectricity, etc. I think we are going to find definitive and measurable proof that there is, indeed, a network of energy (innate, chi, qi, etc.) that affects and plays a role in the autonomic functions of the body. Recent studies have documented near instantaneous reactions within the brain and nervous system following stimulation of seemingly far removed acupoints. Although these reactions are documented, the underlying etiology of why or how they occur is not fully understood.

Compare this to aspirin. For the first 40 or so years, scientists had no idea how or why aspirin worked to relieve pain and inflammation. However, it became the most widely used pain reliever in the world. Why?… Because it worked! With acupuncture, the only difference is time frame. Although the underlying etiology is not completely understood, it works! For over 5,000 years, acupuncture has been taught, studied, and practiced with widespread success and positive treatment outcomes.

As with other treatment methods or options, acupuncture is not a panacea. It will not work for everyone or every case, but there are a ton of conditions and scenarios when acupuncture will be the most effective treatment method available. In one recent case, I had an elderly gentleman that we had been fighting a case of severe hip pain. Now, this may not be typical, but after one treatment, he was nearly pain free in the hip.

Why did his case respond so well to acupuncture when it had failed to respond to so many other treatment methods? I’m not sure. What I do know is that acupuncture is what his body needed. Although you may not need acupuncture for every single case, for those cases that need acupuncture… you won’t get optimum results without it.

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One Response to “Acupuncture – What Is It?”

  1. DrD said

    Here is how I have come to describe it.

    A Chinese medical treatment based on the understanding that living bodies pulse and flow with an energy that is beyond the limited spectrum of the human eye similar to microwaves, or radiowaves. Further, ALL diseases of the body begin with a disruption of this energy field that if left uncorrected will manifest as an ailment of the physical body. After thousands of years of research a modern acupuncturist understands and uses a complex map of this energy field and by stimulating specific points, he can alleviate stagnation, and realign this energy field which will very shortly manifest as a decrease in pain and restoration of function in the bodies tissues. Acupuncture is commonly used to control pain and to treat other conditions such as allergies, hypertension or addiction withdrawal. Acupuncture is one component of an overall program of Chinese medicine that is very similar to the modern wellness movement happening in America today.

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