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Actupuncture FAQs
Acupuncture Model

Acupuncture FAQs

Acupuncture gained popularity and recognition in the United States when the press followed President Nixon into China in 1974. There, representatives of major US news networks witnessed and reported on several demonstrations of serious surgeries being performed with acupuncture as the only anesthetic. While these demonsrations didn't teach the American public how Acupuncture works, it did make the term a household word and drove millions of people into clinics for treatments when conventional medicine failed. But acupuncture is far more than just a pain-blocker... it is one of the fundamental methods of healthcare in all of Asia, and one of the most profound healing modalities in the world.

The Origins of Acupuncture

Acupuncture can be tranced back as far as the Stone Age in China, when stone knives and pointed rocks were used to relieve pain and diseases. These instruments were known by the ancients as "bian." In the Han Dynasty (206 BC to 220 AD) an Analytical Dictionary of Characters Shuo Wen Jie Zi describes the character "bian" as meaning a stone to treat disease. Later these stones were replaced by needles made of bamboo and slivers of animal bone, then finally in the Shang Dynasty bronze casting techniques made metal needles possible, which conducted electricity (and qi). This led to the mapping of the meridian system or "channels" of energy within the body. (Historical Time Line).

A summary of medical knowledge, the Huangdi Nei Jing or Yellow Emperor's Classic of Medicine compiled in 475-221 BC, describes the use of acupuncture and moxibustion, pathology of the meridians and viscera, acupuncture points, indications, contraindications and the application of nine kinds of needles. In fact, acupuncture was a large part of the entire compilation of medical knowledge at that time. m The famous Chinese surgeon, Hua Tuo, was an expert in acupuncture, and it was during his time period (Han Dynasty) that the "tsun", a measurement system that uses the width of a joint of the patient's own finger was developed to help locate the acu-points more accurately.

Acupuncture developed rapidly and was systematically researched during the Western dynasties. A book appeared around 400 AD called Zhen Jiu Jia Yi Jing A Classic of Acupuncture and Moxibustion, which described the names and number of points for each channel, their exact locations, indications, and methods of manipulation. Although medical advances and modern technology has helped to refine the art, his text describes the basic point locations that are still used in modern Acupuncture and Acupressure.

In the Sung, Kin and Yuan dynasties (960-1368 AD) the text Tong Jen Shu Xue Zhen Jiu Tu Jing or Illustrated Manual on the Points for Acupuncture and Moxibustion as Found on the Bronze Figure written by Wang Wei-yi, made detailed studies and observations of 657 points on the human body. Wang also sponsored the casting of two life-size, hollow bronze figures with the surface marked with channels and exact point locations. With these models, the teaching of acupuncture flourished and spread through the country, and the established practice of herbal medicine began to adopt the channel and meridian theories into their practice. With this common theory between the two leading health disciplines, the medicine of China was quickly transformed as both schools contributed to the extensive library of data being collected and recorded.

But Not Everyone Was Convinced

The rulers of the Manchurian Qing Dynasty (1644-1911) issued a decree banning Acupuncture practice because they felt as though it was inferior to medicines being introduced by invading Western cultures. But by that time, it was too late... the people were convinced that acupuncture worked and it was in widespread use among the common people as well as the wealthy and educated. In fact, China's contact with other foreign countries at that time enabled acupuncture and herbal medicine to be exported to other countries. A jesuit priest brought acupuncture to Europe via France when he wrote "Les Secrets de la Medicine des Chinois," in 1671 and a German, Dr. E. Kampfer, introduced acupuncture to his country in 1683 with a book entitled The Medicine of China, which was published in France.

Bronze AcuModel

Another attempt at banning acupuncture occurred in 1920s by the Kuomintang (Nationalist) government, which banned all Chinese medicine. But again, in spite of setbacks, Acupuncture, Moxibustion, and other forms of traditional medicine (taijiquan, qigong, etc.) remained popular among the people who relied on it. By the 1900s, Chinese medicine had already spread to Japan and other nearby countries as well as Arabian and European countries who traded with China.

When the Communist government took over in the 1940s, Mao Tsetung advocated the use of both Chinese and Western treatments. Acupuncture played a major role in the healthcare of the Chinese people and soldiers during their war with Japan and their internal struggles. It was cheap, effective and could be used almost anywhere.

In the 1950s, clinics, research organizations and colleges specializing in Chinese medicine were established in Beijing and other major cities throughout China. It was this East-West approach that developed "Acupuncture Anesthesia" which is widely recognized in the West. Although the Communist government helped revive traditional Chinese medicine and standardize it, much of the Daoist-based theory was eliminated and regarded as superstitious. As in previous attempts to ban or control the art, the common people and those who practiced Taijiquan and Qigong in the quiet corners of the parks keep the theories alive for future generations.

American Acceptance

In the United States, Franlin Bache, M.D. a great grandson of Benjamin Franklin, wrote an article, "Case illustrative of Remial Effects of Acupuncture" showing the benefits of the art, and in 1916, Sir William Osler, M.D. wrote an article recommending acupuncture for treatment for lumbago in the "Principles and Practice of Medicine". Despite an occasional article, Acupuncture remained rare until 1971 when James Reston, a reporter for the New York Times accompanied President Nixon on a trip to China where they witnessed an appendoctomy using Acupuncture Anesthesia.

There are mountains of anecdotal evidence that Acupuncture and Acupressure is effective on various different types of illness. But despite many efforts, Western science has never been able to reconcile how Acupuncture works. They can prove "that" it works, but not "how" it works...so many doctors an researchers remain skeptic. Since Acupuncture is based on Daoist (Taoist) oriental theories like "yin" and "yang" and "the five elements", a Chinese diagnosis may seem strange and unprofessional to Western physicians.

The Chinese have less problem understanding how Acupuncture works because their culture, philosophy, and even their language makes explanations of "vital energy" or "Qi" within the body plausible, and for the most part, unquestioned. For the Chinese, "Qi" is no more mysterious than electricity. Anything that helps "move" this vital energy when it is stagnant will help bring the body back into balance or homeostatis, thus allowing it to heal.

It is important to understand that Acupuncture (and Traditional Chinese Medicine in general), is not "folk medicine". It is a highly developed, systematic, recorded, researched, and peer reviewed form of medicine with several disciplines that continues to evolve. It has a massive amount of real-world data to justify the application of techniques based on several thousand years of human trials.

Throughout the world, lay-persons have adopted the techniques far more readily that scientists because they do not have to understand how it works to take advantage of it. From janitors to high-profile quarterbacks, the word is out... it's cheap, it's painless, and most importantly... it works.

Yin Yang symbol

The principle of Yin /Yang in Chinese philosophy is simple... but to understand such a "foreign" concept, Westerners have written numerous books on the subject. Originally, the "Yang" was the sunny side of a slope, and the "Yin" was the shady side of the slope. These terms are used to describe any item in nature. When the two forces are in balance, the item being described is in its natural state.     It Yang is described as "hot", the Yin must be described as "cold"; if Yang is "outside", then Yin is "inside"; if Yang is "up", then Yin is "down"; if Yang is the "head" of a coin, Yin is the "tail" of the coin, etc. In the exercise system of Taijiquan, the practitioners upset this balance in their opponent while maintaining their own Yin/Yang balance. Whenever one of the forces increases to its extreme, a violent transition will occur to bring them back into balance (this is where the legends of extraordinary strength originates).

It is important to realize that Yin and Yang are not separate items, they always appear together when speaking about the principles of Yin/Yang. Since one is opposite, yet complimentary of the other, one cannot appear without the other. In fact, the presence of one without equal amounts of the other is exactly what Acupuncture and Acupressure is designed to correct. When there is a condition in the body where the Yang force is excessive, then an acupoint that either reduces the Yang of this force, or an acupoint that increases the Yin of this force is stimulated.

Either of these treatments will balance the two forces of Yin and Yang, thus bringing the body back into its natural "balance" or state of homeostatis. When the body is in a state of homeostatis, it is considered healthy. The selection of what acupoints to use and whether to increase or decrease forces in the body is difficult and why acupuncturists go through rigorous training, and have access to thousands of case studies.

Five Element Theory

There are several schools of theory within the modern Acupuncture community. One of the most popular is the theory of the Five Elements. Proponents of this system use the relationship of five elements and the meridians or channels of energy in the human body to bring forces back into balance. For instance, if their diagnosis shows an excessive Yang condition in an energy related to a "fire" element, they may look for the cause as being either a Yin or weak condition in the "water" element (not enough water to control the fire), or they may find an Yang condition in the "wood" element (too much wood feeding the fire).

Now when you consider the "fire" as the heart, the "water" as the kidneys, and the "wood" as the liver, you can begin to see how a typical treatment may be configured. This also explains the reason why the Acupuncturist may ask a lot more questions than a typical Western physician as they inquire about seemingly unrelated topics. A Western physician would seldom ask if you have trouble urinating or other kidney-related questions like a craving for salt when you go for a heart checkup, yet surprisingly, Western science has led to many similar conclusions (excessive salt can be bad for your heart).

The theory itself is simple but the relationships and diagnosis can become quite complex with creation cycles and destruction or controlling cycles, etc. Most body functions are divided into Yin/Yang tendencies, then subdivided into elements or qualities.

Another important difference in Eastern and Western medicine is that every traditional Oriental diagnosis is individual and unique. Two persons with the same symptoms may receive completely different treatments because the cause of their "imbalances" may be different. Oriental medicine looks for the "causes" of the disease, not necessarily treating the symptoms directly.

Elements

Wood

Fire

Earth

Metal

Water

Flavors

Sour

Bitter

Sweet

Pungent

Salty

Colors

Green

Red

Yelow

White

Black

Influences

Wind

Heat

Dampness

Dryness

Cold

Organs

Liver

Heart

Spleen

Lungs

Kidney

Senses

Eyes

Tongue

Mouth

Nose

Ears

Emotions

Anger

Joy

Pensiveness

Sadness

Fear

Body Part

Tendon

Pulse

Muscles

Skin

Bone

Vital Substances

Traditional Chinese Medicine views the human as being made up of basic substances that continually interact with each other to create the whole being.

Qi (vital energy):

Literally translated as "air", Qi is the vital energy of any living organism and source of all movement and change in the universe. Energy we create from the digestion of food, air and liquids and how we interact with our environment via exercise, meditation, etc. Deficiencies or blocked Qi can result in an inability to transform and transport our food and drink, inability to keep warm or tolerate extreme temperatures, and a lack of resistance to diseases and chronic fatigue.

Xue (blood):

Not only the fluid that circulates in the vascular system as in Western medicine but it also houses the Shen (or spirit) and aids in the development of clear and stable thought processes. Qi and Xue have mutually interdependent functions and Xue follows Qi throughout; the body. Deficiencies in blood typically leads to pale complexion, dry skin and dizziness.

Jing (essence):

Usually translated as "essence" and sometimes referred to as "prenatal Qi". The essential energy of all living organism which is derived both from the energy we inherent from our parents and from the energy we require from our daily lives principally from food and air. It governs growth, reproduction and development, promotes kidney Qi and works with Qi to help protect the body from external factors. Infertility, poor memory and chronic tendency to colds, flu and allergies may also be due to deficient Jing.

Shen (spirit):

Non-physical, mental, emotional aspect of human consciousness that is stored in the Chinese heart. The Chinese heart is not the Western organ in the chest but the spiritual aspect and attitude of the person.

Jin Ye (body fluids):

the functional secretions of the body includes tears, sweat, saliva, milk, mucous, vaginal secretion. Jin are the lighter fluids which moisten and nourish the skin and muscles. Ye are the denser fluids which are processed in the spleen and the stomach to moisten and nourish the internal organs. Deficiency in body fluids can lead to various forms of dehydration such as dry skin and constipation.

Meridians

The Vital Substances flow through channels or "meridians" in the body. There are 12 main meridians, and a network of other smaller channels branching off from these main channels. Each of these 12 main meridians is connected to one of the twelve organs and travels along its own route within the body. Unlike the Western blood circulatory system, these meridians are not visible to the naked eye. Acupuncture models show these meridians as lines running and occasionally crossing throughout the body. The individual Acupuncture points fall along these meridians.

When the vital substances fail to flow smoothly through the meridians, disease occurs. By stimulating one of the Acupuncture points along the meridian, it is possible to release any blockages, thus restoring the body to its natural state.

What Happens in a Typical Visit?

If you are a bit nervous about trying out an Acupuncture session, don't worry...you are not alone. Since Western medicine uses needles in a different (and sometimes painful) way, it is natural for us imagine the pain of becoming a human pin-cushion.

In Western medicine, needles are used to inject medicine or to withdraw fluids from the body. The needles are hollow and the tip is beveled and sharpened so that it can cut the skin upon entry. In comparison to Acupuncture needles, Western needles are huge because the diameter needs to be large enough to transfer the thick fluids of the body.

Acupuncture needles are very thin and solid. They are not designed to cut the skin, but to displace the skin and stimulate areas beneath the skin. Needles are sterile and most doctors now use disposible brands for safety.

The needles are usually inserted by placing them in a "tube-like" holder to keep them from bending upon insertion, then the doctor will "tap" the top of the holder to insert the thin needle to the desired depth. The holder is then removed, leaving the actual needle in place. The needles are left in place for a presribed period of time (up to 30 minutes) before removal. Depending on the treatment plan, from one to several dozen needles could be inserted in various points.

While Western patients are mostly concerned about the needles, the real treatment begins with the diagnosis. In some training clinics, the "teaching" doctor will review all data and make the diagnosis, marking the insertion points, then the students will do the needle insertion, simply following the doctor's instructions.

Diagnosis

Much like the first visit to a Western doctor, the visit starts with medical history forms. It is important to answer all questions accurately to assist the medical staff in evaluating your condition.

Acupuncture is part of "Traditional Chinese Medicine", which is typically a more holistic approach than Western medicine, so questions which may seem unrelated to your reason for making the visit are often important to the diagnosis (questions about sleep habits, ability to tolerate heat and cold, current diet, etc.) After reviewing your records, the physician will visit and begin the diagnosis.

Most clinics will do the customary stethoscope routine, along with letting you describe your condition verbally. Then, depending on your condition, may do a rather extensive tongue examination and an unusual pulse examination. The Chinese pulse examination is a major diagnosis technique for traditional Chinese medicine. It is a method of establishing the condition of the "meridians" or pathways of "qi" (energy) within your body.

Then, using all of the information gathered from the diagnosis, the physician will determine the "cause" of the symptoms that you have described (the reason for your visit). Needles will then be inserted into very specific acu-points that will help bring the body back into "homeostatis" or balance, thus removing the source of the symptoms.

Allow at least an hour for the first visit. The actual treatment will last around 30 to 40 minutes and it may take several visits to make progress, depending on the seriousness of the condition and the length of time it has been causing you discomfort. As with any treatment plan (Western or Eastern), make certain your questions are answered to your satisfaction, and the treatment plan seems reasonable based on your condition.

If you have tried Western medicine for many years with no progress, it may take more than a single visit to an Acupuncturist to see results, yet you don't want to make an acupuncture treatment a weekly event for the rest of your life to heal a sore elbow.

If you do not have previous experience with Chinese culture or medicine, be prepared for a cultural experience that can not only relieve your medical condition, but enrich your life. Make sure you ask questions if you don't understand something. I recommend visiting a clinic that has some Western visitors because they are used to explaining their diagnosis in Western terms and answering lots of odd questions about the treatment. When you call to get an appointment, it is a good time to ask if they have other "Western" patients.


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