What is acupuncture?
Acupuncture treatment is the use of fine needles that are inserted into specific points along the body, called meridians or channels to activate the Qi (energy) and restore good health.
It probably evolved from acupressure, a form of massage thousands of years ago in East Asia, not just from China. Countries that use this ancient system of healthcare include China, Korea, Japan, Vietnam and other Asian countries.
It is still used in East Asia today to treat a variety of health care problems. Over the last 20-30 years, this ancient holistic therapy has gained increased popularity in western countries. It is now used in western countries as an alternative medicine to treat common conditions, such as pain, anxiety, stress, digestive disorders and male/female infertility.
Even though this is an ancient therapy, it is classified in western countries as a complementary or alternative therapy. Medical acupuncture (dry needling) was invented in the last few decades and doesn't exist in Asia. Medical acupuncturists don't believe in the flow of qi or the flow of energy.
It's been used in the Far East to restore, promote and maintain good health for over 2,500 years. The ancient Chinese have used it to treat a wide range of conditions. It developed not only in China, but also in other East Asian countries such as Korea, Japan, Vietnam, etc.
The original form was likely to have been developed from Shamanism and is now a part of traditional Chinese medicine. The first needles were made from stone and then later from bronze, gold and silver.
It's likely that acupuncture originated from massage, where people would massage a point on the body and notice an affect in another part of the body. Over thousands of years before the written word was invented this developed into a form of medicine with its own theory and channels of movement.
The first medical textbook
The first known medical textbook was 'The Yellow Emperor's Classic of Internal Medicine', which dates from around 300 BC. It continued to develop without interruption for the next 2,400 years into a complete system of healthcare that can treat many health problems.
There is now some proof with the discovery of the frozen Oetzi tattoo man found in the Italian Alps in 1991 that accupuncture may have been around in Europe over 5,000 years ago. Therefore it doesn’t necessarily belong to East Asia, but is still considered one of many complementary therapies in the West.
How it works
Scientific evidence suggests that acupuncture works by regulating neuromodulation, such as vagus nerve stimulation and has been used for inflammation control and uses body natural pain killers for pain treatment. It also stimulates the immune system to produce a healing response.
From an Asian viewpoint, the effects of acupuncture are based upon the regulation of the flow of vital energy, called Qi (chi). By regulating this vital energy, the body is able to heal itself and return to good health.
Watch my animated video below, which explains how it works.
In western countries, such as the United States and the UK, acupuncture practitioners use traditional acupuncture to treat chronic conditions or improve general health and can especially help with:
What to expect
After a consultation where you'll be asked lots of questions about all aspects of your life, you'll be asked to lie down on a couch and roll up your sleeves and trousers legs.
Very fine sterile needles the size of a human hair will be inserted stimulating the body's energy points. The pins are inserted from 2mm to 4cm depending on the area.
Normal sensations include a dullness, tingling or electrical sensation. Sometimes you may feel a sharp sensation which is the needle breaking the skin badly.
You'll then be allowed to rest with the needles in for around 25 to 30 minutes. Normally, relaxing music will be played to you.
After 25 to 30 minutes, the healthcare professional will remove the pins and they will be placed in a sharps box, which when full will be incinerated. It is safe to have if you have a bleeding disorder.
After finishing the treatment you can return back to your normal life.
Why it's more than just needles
When people think of accupuncture they think of the needles. However, there is a lot more to it than the needles it uses to affect the flow of qi in the body.
It is a way of life, a way of thinking and seeing the body and how it fits in with Nature. This includes the way we eat, sleep and work.
If you would like to learn more about how it is more than just needles, you can read an article I wrote about it.
To properly understand the acupoints you must first understand some basic theory. Traditional Chinese medicine as a whole is the understanding of Nature and how that affects the human body. Nature includes the cycles of the seasons and the movement of the stars.
How many points are there on the human body?
The ancients tried to map the heavens onto Earth and people. There are five elements in traditional Chinese medicine because you can only see five planets from Earth with the naked-eye. There is yang, which is the sun and daylight and yin which is the moon and night-time. For these reasons, traditionally there were 365 points on the human body, which corresponded to the number of days in a year.
Now there are a lot more points on the body. With additional treatment styles such as Master Tung, Dr Tan and western medical acupuncture, there are hundreds more.
Types of acupuncture needles
There are various needle shapes and sizes. Most are made from surgical steel and have either a metal, copper or plastic handle. Some needles are made out of gold. The needle shafts are sometimes coated with substances such as silicon to help them slide through the skin.
Needles come in various sizes or gauges which allows an acupuncturist to stimulate points on the body. The width of a needle can vary from 0.12mm to 0.50mm. The thickness of the needle will affect the stimulation of the energy point and how much the person will feel the inserting needles going in. The thicker the needle, the more you are likely to feel it.
The handle of the needle can affect the way the needle is stimulated. For example, a copper handled needle will conduct energy (qi) more than a plastic handled needle.
I use the finest needles to minimise the feel of them entering the body and am a member of the British Acupuncture Council (BAC).
Ear seeds and tacks
A tack or ear seed is a small object that's stuck onto specific points on a person for them to stimulate in between sessions. They are left stuck on the body using sticky tape night and day, until they lose their stickiness and fall off.
Tacks and ear seeds work by stimulating points a person might need to help rebalance their health. This reinforces the treatment allowing for greater effect. A common use of ear seeds is on the 'mind' point on the ear (shenmen) to help calm the mind and treat anxiety.
Ji, R.-R., Chamessian, A., & Zhang, Y.-Q. (2016). Pain Regulation by Non-neuronal Cells and Inflammation. Science (New York, N.Y.), 354(6312), 572-577. http://doi.org/10.1126