Acupuncture is one of the oldest forms of healing known to mankind. It originated in China nearly five thousand years ago. The fact that it is still being practiced after thousands of years, speaks for the efficacy of this treatment for the laws and principles it is based. Acupuncture treatment is usually carried out by inserting very fine needles in specific points in the body.
The needles vary from half an inch to several inches in length and depth of insertion together with the way in which they are twirled and vibrated, effects the treatment. Acupuncture sets out and corrects any imbalance that is in the body or in the mind and restore harmony and equilibrium, thus eradicating the causative factors of the sickness.
The name Acupuncture is derived from the Latin words i.e. ‘acus’ means Needles and ‘punctura’ – To Penetrate. The discovery of acupuncture is rather interesting. It was accidentally discovered when a warrior, struck by an arrow in a battle became aware of numbness, that had nothing to do with his wound. From this it was summarized that by penetrating the skin at certain points a number of diseases could apparently be cured spontaneously. Later on it was discovered that it was not the size of the wound that mattered, but rather the precise points where the pin prick should be made to bring the relief to the sufferer. This led to belief that a needle inserted at various points on the body when manipulated, could cure disease.
Acupuncture is powerful medicine which aids in strengthening the immune system and serves to prevent disease and control pain. It increases both the ability to function and quality of people’s lives. Acupuncture is well developed whole healthcare system based on natural energetic laws. Dating back to over 3,000 years as a primary healthcare system in China, acupuncture is widespread in Asia, Europe, US, and now the India.
What is Acupuncture?
The treatment of various disease of the body carried out by inserting very fine needles into the specific points of the body is termed as acupuncture. It comprise of two parts: to needle and to heat. The whole body is endowed with a number of spots, the acupuncture points. These points, when stimulated either by needles or by warming, bring about the cure. The source of needle stimulation is either by needles or by electricity. The heating is done by burning a kind of herb ‘Artemisia vulgaris’, and the technique is called Moxibustion. The two technique needling and Moxibustion can be used separately or in combination.
What is the reason that acupuncture can work?
The Chinese state that if acupuncture is to achieve its maximum effect it is necessary for the acupuncturist to obtain a ‘needling sensation’, over each acupuncture point that is used. This involves the needle being moved slightly while it is in the skin, and the sensation experienced by the patient will vary. Needling sensation is not painful but a dull, bursting or numb sensation around the site of the inserted needle. The sensation may also travel up or down the channel being treated; the stimulation of an acupuncture point on the right knee may precipitate the experience of a strange burning or numb sensation in the right ankle. Needling sensation is probably best defined by the statement, ‘When needling sensation is experienced the needle no longer feels like a needle!’
Some acupuncturists use an electrical stimulator to excite acupuncture points as a substitute for obtaining needling sensation. Electro-acupuncture causes a tingling sensation over the acupuncture points that are being stimulated, but the Chinese believe that this does not replace the need to obtain needling sensation. If the stimulator is mistakenly turned to a very high intensity then the patient will experience some discomfort, so it is wise to be cautious when using electrical stimulators, and to adjust the intensity slowly and carefully.
Another common misconception is that patients must ‘believe’ in acupuncture to enable it to work. This is similar to the idea that acupuncture is a complex form of suggestibility, but this is quite wrong. Like any other type of medicine acupuncture works on those who believe in it and those who do not. The mechanism of acupuncture is not clearly understood but, as has already been mentioned, it is quite clear that reproducible biological changes occur when an acupuncture needle penetrates the skin. Whilst accepting that all medical treatment is more effective if the doctor is trusted by the patient, this trust is not a prerequisite for the physiological changes that occur during and after acupuncture.
Patient’s Response to Acupuncture treatment
It is very difficult to be dogmatic about how a patient will respond to acupuncture. Occasionally, one treatment is all that is required, whilst other people may need a number of treatments to gain the same result for the same disease. In general most people, and their problems, do not respond magically to one treatment, and between four and eight treatment sessions may be required in order to obtain the best results from acupuncture.
Acupuncture usually works in stages. The first two or three treatments represent a process of ‘understanding the needs of the patient’, and are therefore a sort of experiment designed to assess the specific requirements for that person in that particular condition. Some people respond to classical Chinese acupuncture, whilst others respond better to ear acupuncture. This partially reflects the skill of the acupuncturist in the use specific techniques, but it also represents the fact that the body responds in a slightly different way to slightly different stimuli. Some people seem to respond to a particular acupuncture technique for one condition, whilst requiring a completely different technique for another complaint. A patient may even respond to a particular approach for a specific condition and then stop improving half way through treatment, thus necessitating an alternative approach to that condition.
If a patient experiences some symptomatic improvement at the first consultation, then they often gain considerable relief from a course of acupuncture; equally, many people who do not obtain symptomatic improvement at the first consultation may also gain a great deal from acupuncture. It is a good prognostic sign if there is some instant improvement, although the improvement gained at the first consultation rarely lasts longer than 1-2 days, and may last only an hrs. Subsequent treatment should then give a better and more prolonged result and, as shown on the graph, the symptoms should gradually disappear as the treatment becomes effective.
Ten sittings should be adequate to foretell whether a patient will respond to acupuncture adequately or not. If there has been no response to treatment after the first ten sessions then it is doubtful whether any response will occur. This should be taken as a general guideline and not as a rule as sometimes the symptoms of a particular condition may be very fluctuating, and it may be difficult to obtain a clear assessment of the results of treatment. Occasionally the patient may not find it easy to remember exactly what the condition was like three weeks before and this too can create difficulties, so it is wise to keep a diary and assess day by day the changes that are arising in the problem being treated. This will allow the patient and the acupuncturist to develop a clear idea of the response to treatment, and to assess whether the treatment is worthwhile.
Most acupuncturists continue to treat a patient until there is no further improvement in their condition. The response, as shown by the graph, tends to ‘level off’ towards the end of treatment (usually after five or six treatments) and this ‘leveling off’ signifies that further treatment will probably not give further benefit. Acupuncturists in the West tend to treat people on a weekly basis; in China treatment is given daily, but this seems to be more from habit rather than for any good medical reason. Weekly treatments allow both patient and acupuncturist to gain a clear assessment of the progress and response to treatment.
Some reactions to Acupuncture you should know
Sometimes a patient may experience a temporary worsening of symptoms due to acupuncture; this is a response to treatment and is a good sign. Such ‘reactions’ to treatment only last for a short time, perhaps a day or two, and are usually followed by improvement. A ‘reaction usually means that the acupuncture needles have been over stimulated as some patients are very sensitive to acupuncture and may respond to normal stimulation by overreacting. If a ‘reaction’ occurs, the patient should be stimulated less at the next treatment session, this means giving a shorter and less aggressive treatment. Sometimes the improvement may be much delayed and the condition may not improve until the treatment has ceased. Occasionally patients, who have been abandoned, with no improvement after three weeks, will suddenly find improvement some weeks after the acupuncture has ceased.
Acupuncture can be a cure, or it can act as a palliative treatment; this depends on the condition that is being treated. If a chronically painful arthritic knee is treated with acupuncture then, on average, the improvement will last about six months and the knee will then require re-treatment. Some acupuncturists treat their patients every three months or so to avoid any deterioration in their condition. The traditional Chinese approach is to attempt to maintain the patient in a state of health and a regular three-monthly treatment pattern is therefore justified; however, many acupuncturists just treat patients when the symptoms recur. If the condition is self-limiting, such as the pain from an attack of shingles, then no further treatment is required after the pain is relieved.
In the West the vast majority of people look upon acupuncture as an alternative treatment for pain; therefore pain is the most frequently presented complaint at an acupuncture clinic. If the patient is approached from the traditional Chinese vieszpoint then the body is treated as an integrated system. People in pain frequently have other complaints, such as heartburn or depression, and if the body is treated as a complete system then these complaints will also be treated, and often resolve during the course of acupuncture. The patient may be quite surprised to find that some other problem has suddenly improved, as it was not realized it was amenable to acupuncture treatment and therefore not mentioned to their acupuncturist.