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Needle Me, Touch My Qi

An acupuncture Overview

By Cynthia Logan

What would make an otherwise normal person voluntarily lie down on a table and be transformed into a human pin-cushion? We are, of course, talking acupuncture. That's acupuncture, not acupressure. Needles, not knuckles. While many people cringe at being poked by needles, others actually seek out the benefits wrought by hair fine, sterile needles being inserted into the skin at specific points which connect to well-charted channels (or "meridians") throughout the body. Proven to influence physiological functioning and practiced for thousands of years as a cornerstone of Traditional Chinese medicine (TCM), acupuncture is one of the most efficient ways to contact and balance "Qi," the invisible life-force flowing within those channels, powering everything we do. Sounds great, right? But does it really work? If so, how? And maybe most importantly, what might it do for you?

In TCM, health equals balance, or harmony. Illness is considered an imbalance in the flow of the life-force, and can manifest as anything from a common cold or temporary indigestion to serious diseases, such as cancer. At the most fundamental level, balance refers to harmony between two principles, yin and yang (expansion/feminine & contraction/masculine)-symbols of the primordial forces that govern the workings of everything from the macrocosmic universe to the microcosmic cell within the human body. When these forces are in balance, Qi (pronounced "chee") flows easily and evenly along fourteen main meridians which run vertically up and down the surface of the body.

But, as we all know, things don't always flow along easily. Just as a river can be blocked by pollution or fallen debris, the flow of Qi in the body can become stagnant or imbalanced, causing too much or too little energy to reach physical organs fed by the meridian streams. When this occurs, acupuncture can be a powerful means of restoring balance and flow. As hydro-engineers might use interventions upstream, at the blockage, or downstream to restore the flow of an impeded river, so the acupuncturist often treats points above, at, or below the affected site in order to restore health. There are six kinds of acupuncture needles used today, varying in length, width of shaft, and shape of head. All are disposable, in compliance with medical biohazard regulations. Once inserted, "needling techniques" such as twirling, rotation, raising and thrusting, plucking,or scraping and trembling are administered. Though they sound ominous, the sensations produced are rarely painful, often semi or fully pleasurable, and most always interesting.

Acupuncture has been used successfully in China for thousands of years-in some cases, even as anesthesia! In 1982, Dr. David Eisenberg, of Harvard University Medical School, studied in a Beijing hospital that used acupuncture extensively. He watched in amazement as major surgeries were performed with nothing but needles placed with exquisite precision on the patients' bodies to "put them under." His subsequent interview with Bill Moyers on the 1993 PBS special, "Healing and the Mind" helped open the door for acupuncture's acceptance in the West. Fortunately, the FDA recently changed the classification of acupuncture needles (they used to be called "investigational devices"), thereby removing a large stumbling block to insurance coverage.

Still, modern medicine demands "scientific" evidence for acupuncture's efficacy. Researchers have therefore studied its effects on hormones, neurotransmitters, the immune system, blood pressure and other bodily functions, using established meridian points and "sham"-or placebo points-and have determined that benefits are indeed derived from the treatment. Conditions such as arthritis, hay fever, headache, insomnia, dermatitis, infertility, morning sickness and even low libido have responded favorably to those little needles doing their thing. In fact, The National Institutes of Health now consider acupuncture a viable therapy in a number of conditions, including dental pain and nausea. The treatment of pain is one of the more frequent ways in which acupuncture is utilized.

In a rigorous study of chronic low back pain (the most common complaint for pain in the United States), results for the advocation of acupuncture were quite significant. In the group receiving Western orthopedic therapy, 13.9% had pain reduction of 50% or greater. For the group receiving the "sham" acupuncture points, the success rate increased from 13.9% to 29.3%. As for the group receiving real acupuncture, the success rate increased to 76.6%! Acupuncture analgesia (AA) relieves pain by triggering the release of endorphins, or natural pain-killers. Acupuncture positively influences the immune and circulatory systems, enhances neurotransmitter activity and assists small "C" nerve fibers to close their "gates," thereby regulating impulses which are interpreted by the body as pain.
This ancient therapy WORKS, as numerous studies, patient testimonials, and the sheer fact that acupuncture has endured for thousands of years suggests. Does it work all the time? No. Is acupuncture (or any therapy for that matter) a panacea? No. But odds are, it could help you restore or maintain optimal health. Besides, it's fun-and less painful than that annual flu shot (and it's not toxic)! To find a qualified Doctor of Acupuncture in your area, check out http://www.acupuncture.com and click on "Finding A Good Practitioner."