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Mechanisms of Action
Conditions in which acupuncture may be useful
Acupuncture and Your Lifestyle
The Sensation of Acupuncture
The term acupuncture involves stimulation of anatomical points on the body by a variety of techniques from China,
Japan, Korea, and other countries. The acupuncture technique that has been most studied scientifically involves
penetrating the skin with thin, solid, metallic needles that are manipulated by the hands or by electrical stimulation.
In the past two decades, acupuncture has grown in popularity. It is being "widely" practiced
by thousands of naturopaths, physicians, dentists, acupuncturists, and other practitioners for relief or
prevention of pain and for various other health conditions.
Traditional Chinese medicine theorizes that there are more than 2,000 acupuncture points on the human body,
and that these connect with 12 main and 8 secondary meridians ( pathways for the flow of qi, or vital energy).
These meridians conduct energy, or qi (pronounced "chee"), throughout the body. Qi is believed to regulate
spiritual, emotional, mental, and physical balance and to be influenced by the opposing forces of
yin (negative energy) and yang (positive energy), when yin and yang are balanced,
they work together with the natural flow of qi to help the body achieve and maintain health.
Acupuncture is believed to balance yin and yang, keep the normal flow of energy unblocked, and maintain
or restore health to the body and mind.
Western scientists have found meridians hard to identify because meridians do not directly correspond to nerve
or blood circulation pathways. Some researchers believe that meridians are located throughout the body's connective
tissue; others do not believe that qi exists at all. Such differences of opinion have made acupuncture an area of scientific controversy.
Mechanisms of Action:
Several processes have been proposed to explain acupuncture's effects, primarily those on pain.
Acupuncture points are believed to stimulate the central nervous system (the brain and spinal cord)
to release chemicals into the muscles, spinal cord, and brain. These chemicals either change the experience of pain or
release other chemicals, such as hormones, that influence the body's self-regulating systems.
The biochemical changes may stimulate the body's natural healing abilities and promote physical and emotional well-being.
There are three main mechanisms:
1. Conduction of electromagnetic signals: Western scientists have found evidence that acupuncture points are
strategic conductors of electromagnetic signals. Stimulating points along these pathways through acupuncture enables electromagnetic signals to be relayed at a greater rate than under normal conditions.
These signals may start the flow of pain-killing biochemicals, such as endorphins, and of immune system cells
to specific sites in the body that are injured or vulnerable to disease.
2. Activation of opioid systems: Research has found that several types of opioids may be released into
the central nervous system during acupuncture treatment, thereby reducing pain.
Opioid: A synthetic or naturally occurring chemical in the brain that may reduce pain and induce sleep.
3. Changes in brain chemistry, sensation, and involuntary body functions: Studies have shown that
acupuncture may alter brain chemistry by changing the release of neurotransmitters and neurohormones.
Neurohormone: a chemical substance made by tissue in the body's nervous system that can change the structure
or function or direct the activity of an organ or organs.
Neurotransmitter: A biochemical substance that stimulates or inhibits nerve impulses in the brain that relay
information about external stimuli and sensations, such as pain.
Acupuncture also has been documented to affect the parts of the central nervous system related to sensation
and involuntary body functions, such as immune reactions and processes whereby a person's blood pressure,
blood flow, and body temperature are regulated.
Preclinical studies have documented acupuncture's effects, but they have not been able to fully explain how
acupuncture works within the framework of the Western system of medicine.
While there have been many studies of its potential usefulness, many of these studies provide equivocal results
because of design, sample size, and other factors. The issue is further complicated by inherent difficulties in the
use of appropriate controls, such as placebo (an inactive pill or procedure given to a participant in a research study
as part of test of the effects of another substance or treatment ). However, promising results have emerged,
for example, showing efficacy of acupuncture in adult postoperative and chemotherapy nausea and vomiting and
in postoperative dental pain.
Conditions in which acupuncture may be useful:
Stroke rehabilitation, headache, menstrual cramps, tennis elbow, fibromyalgia, myofascial pain, osteoarthritis,
low back pain, carpal tunnel syndrome, and asthma, as an adjunct treatment in a comprehensive management program.
Further research is likely to uncover additional areas where acupuncture interventions will be useful.
Increasingly, acupuncture is complementing conventional therapies. For example, doctors may combine acupuncture
and drugs to control surgery-related pain in their patients. By providing both acupuncture and certain conventional
anesthetic drugs, some doctors have found it possible to achieve a state of complete pain relief for some patients.
They also have found that using acupuncture lowers the need for conventional pain-killing drugs and thus reduces
the risk of side effects for patients who take the drugs. Currently, one of the main reasons to seek acupuncture treatment
is to relieve chronic pain, especially from conditions such as arthritis or lower back disorders.
Some clinical studies show that acupuncture is effective in relieving both chronic (long-lasting) and acute or sudden pain
Additional research is needed to provide definitive answers.
Acupuncture and Your Lifestyle:
Age, physiology, and other factors combine to make every person different. A treatment that works for one person
may not work for another who has the very same condition. If you have received a diagnosis from a doctor and have
had little or no success using conventional medicine, acupuncture might help.
Check a practitioner's credentials. A practitioner who is licensed and credentialed may provide better care than one
who is not. Although proper credentials do not ensure competency, they do indicate that the practitioner has met certain
standards to treat patients through the use of acupuncture.
Check treatment procedures. You also should make certain that the practitioner uses a new set of disposable needles
in a sealed package every time (sterile). Needles are metallic, solid, and hair-thin.
The practitioner also should swab the puncture site with alcohol before inserting the needle.
The Sensation of Acupuncture:
People experience acupuncture differently, but most feel no or minimal pain as the needles are inserted.
Some people are energized by treatment, while others feel relaxed. 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 practitioner