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Acupuncture

What Is It?
How Does It Work?
What Happens During Treatment?
What Is It Used For?
Side Effects/Cautions
Recommended Books


What Is It?

Acupuncture is an ancient therapy that has been practised in China for more than 5000 years, but which has only become accepted in the West during the last 40 years. It is a technique in which tiny needles are inserted underneath the skin to treat or prevent illness.

Acupuncture is one form of therapy used within the holistic system of healing known as Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM). According to this system, a vital energy (qi or chi, pronounced “chee”), flows through the body via 14 invisible channels called meridians. As long as the energy can flow freely we remain healthy, but if the meridians become blocked this leads to an imbalance which makes us more susceptible to illness and disease.

How Does It Work?
Acupuncturists use fine needles which are inserted at certain points (called acupoints) to unblock the meridians and restore the flow of qi. There are hundreds of acupoints found along meridians which are said to be associated with different organs in the body, and stimulation of certain points is believed to affect the associated organ.

Scientific attempts to prove the existence of qi, or the meridians have been unsuccessful, but there is evidence to suggest that acupuncture may work by triggering the release of natural painkillers within the body (called endorphins and monoamines), or by blocking the passage of pain impulses. Acupuncture may also stimulate the flow of immune system cells to specific areas in the body that are injured or vulnerable to disease.

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What Happens During Treatment?
During your first visit, the practitioner will ask you about your health condition, lifestyle and behaviour. S/he will want to obtain a complete picture of your treatment needs and behaviours that may contribute to the condition. Inform the acupuncturist about all treatments or medications you are taking and all medical conditions you have. The practitioner may examine your tongue and the smell of your breath and body, and take your pulse in several different places. S/he may also palpate diagnostic areas of the body such as the abdomen and back, and test for weaknesses in the muscles or along the meridian points.

The first treatment generally lasts about an hour, with follow up sessions lasting 15-45 minutes. Treatment may take place over a few days or for several weeks or more.

Acupuncture needles are much smaller than hypodermic needles, are solid rather than hollow, and do not draw blood. The acupuncturist inserts one to 15 needles which are left in place for a few minutes to an hour. When the needles are inserted you may feel a momentary sensation such as a twinge, tingling or shooting sensation. This is called Deqi, and happens when the needle ‘grabs’ the Qi. It can be startling, but is a positive response and should be welcomed. The needles may be twisted, or electrical currents can be sent through them to increase the flow of energy.
Sometimes other therapies such as moxibustion (the burning of a herb over the acupoints), massage and reflexology are used in conjunction with acupuncture.

People experience acupuncture differently, but most feel no or minimal pain as the needles are inserted. Some people are energised by treatment, while others feel relaxed. Some experience immediate relief from symptoms, while in others it may take several sessions to feel any effects.
If needles put you off, you may want to try acupressure instead. Acupressure stimulates the same acupoints using pressure from the fingers and hands instead of needles.

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What Is It Used For?
Acupuncture is most commonly used in the treatment of chronic pain from conditions such as arthritis, headache, menstrual pain, tennis elbow, fibromyalgia, low back pain, carpal tunnel syndrome and asthma. It can help with pain following surgery, and reduce nausea from chemotherapy. Acupuncture has also been used in stroke rehabilitation and withdrawal from addictions, including smoking, as well as emotional problems such as depression and anxiety. Acupuncture may also be useful for prevention of illness and enhancing general health and vitality. A practitioner can correct small energy imbalances before they become major health problems.

Side Effects and Cautions
When performed by a properly trained and qualified practitioner, acupuncture is generally considered safe and effective, with no side effects. The practitioner should either use a new set of disposable needles for each treatment, or disinfect and sterilise needles in the same way as surgical instruments are, after each use. The practitioner should also swab the puncture site with alcohol or another disinfectant before inserting the needle.

It is important to tell your practitioner if you are pregnant, or are taking any anticoagulant drugs which may cause bleeding during needle insertion. Stimulation of acupuncture needles electrically or with magnets may interfere with pacemakers.

Some people may feel faint on insertion of needles. If you have had previous problems with injections, let your practitioner know.

Improper needle placement, movement of the patient, or a defect in the needle can cause soreness and pain during treatment. This is why it is important to seek treatment from a qualified acupuncture practitioner.

References

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Recommended Books

Prices are in US Dollars

A Manual of Acupuncture
Peter Deadman

Once in a great while an extraordinary book is published that sets an entirely new standard in its field. A Manual of Acupuncture, published by Journal of Chinese Medicine Publications, is just such a book. Painstakingly researched over many years by Peter Deadman, editor-in-chief of The Journal of Chinese Medicine, and colleagues Mazin Al-Khafaji and Kevin Baker, this book is certain to become the primary reference in the West for the study of acupuncture points and channels.
Introductory chapters describe and illustrate the channels and collaterals, the various categories of points, and methods of selection, location, and needling. Ensuing chapters present each of the points of the 14 channels as well as the extra (miscellaneous) points, identified by their English and pinyin names, and Chinese characters. Each point is located in accordance with the most exacting anatomical standards to be found in any Western textbook.
For each point there is a dedicated drawing, followed by regional body drawings. The quality of the 500 drawings is far superior to those in any other TCM text. There are also practical pointers for finding and needling the points, and cautionary information about what to avoid. In addition to point indexes by their English and pinyin names, there is an index identifying every part of the body reached by each of the channels, and separate indexes of point indications listed according to both TCM and biomedical symptoms.

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Acupuncture for Everyone: What It Is, Why It Works, and How It Can Help You
Ruth Kidson

In this revised edition of Acupuncture for Everyone--regarded by many practitioners as the most concise and useful book about acupuncture available--Dr. Kidson provides a clear understanding of how acupuncturists make their diagnoses and how this determines what treatment they implement. Illustrations are included to help the reader understand what the acupuncturist does and why. Kidson also explains the fundamental principles of Chinese medicine underlying this effective therapy, offers advice on how to find a good practitioner, and shows what to expect from consultation and treatment. Anyone considering acupuncture for treatment of a health condition will find their questions and concerns allayed by this invaluable little book.

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Fundamentals of Chinese Acupuncture
Andrew Ellis

This text presents a thorough view of classical acupuncture alongside the modern approach. It has several unique features that have contributed to its popularity. First, the authors have applied a precise method of translation that allows the clinical experience of both modern and classical Chinese authors to be transmitted directly. Second, the text provides the most consistent information at the lowest cost. Third, it provides a more systematic arrangement of study material.
The authors have arranged the text in four systematic sections: Materials and Methods, Channel, Pathways, Channels and Points, and Approaches to Point Selection. The materials selections have been adapted to Western practice.
The technical information for each point includes needle stimulus, contraindications, needling depth and recommended technique, extent and duration of moxibustion. Special point groupings, such as the shu or mu points, are also included.

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More Acupuncture Books

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