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Books and Articles by Dr. Ranvir Pahwa

Curious About Acupuncture? Here are Some Answers

by Ranvir Pahwa, PhD, DrAc

Before acupuncture there was acupressure, massage, and rubbing of tender and painful body areas. When effective healing could not be obtained through the above methods, then needles and pointed objects were inserted for better effects. This led to the discovery of acupuncture. The Chinese term for needling is "Zhen", meaning to prick with pointed object. Acupuncture is a European term invented by a Dutch physician, Willem Ten Rhyen. Historically needles were made up of stones, bones, bamboo, pottery material, and metals. The earliest Chinese record on acupuncture is the Nei Ching (Classic of Internal Medicine, about 2,600 BC). In India the work of Ayurvedic surgeon Sushruta (7th Century, BC) has details about the body points, which in Sanskrit are called Marma Sthala, meaning "delicate spot". Massage and pressure on these spots produces healing. The work of Dr. Anton Jaysurya, a physician and acupuncturist, depicts the discovery in Sri Lanka of acupuncture and tools which are 2,000 years old.

Acupuncture evolved in China and travelled to other oriental countries. It was well-developed in North India and in Sri Lanka before the Christian Era. The Western world became acquainted with acupuncture in the 17th century when it was discovered by missionaries living in China, who then brought it to the West. Today acupuncture is practised all over the world.

Through their observations, ancient Chinese healers discovered that there is a connection between body surface points and internal organs. These points become tender and sensitive in disorders. Acupuncturists believe that these points are located on invisible pathways called meridians, or channels, which run all over the body. There are 14 main meridians and about 365 points. However, non-meridian points were also discovered by the Chinese. Later discoveries have found that the hands, feet, ears, and the face also represent the whole body. Acupuncture on these parts produces healing, as well. However, the ear (Auricular) acupuncture has been studied extensively and is very effective.

In the West, some practitioners disregarded the invisible meridians but believed in the acupuncture points. However, Western practitioners found trigger points on the body. Trigger points are hard knots, congested areas of muscular tissue, which are tender and painful. Trigger points are rubbed, massaged, pressed, injected with anesthetics and analgesics, and acupunctured. Interestingly, several trigger points are on meridians and around the meridians. These points can refer or direct pain to other body parts.

There are several non-needle methods available which are known as: moxibustion (burning a herb on acupuncture point), Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation (TENS), cupping, laser, magnets, pecking (Shoni shin and Tie shin), and scraping (Gou Sha).

Modern acupuncture involves the insertion of fine needles of various sizes through the skin and tissues. The needles are made up of steel, silver, or gold. Most practitioners use pre-sterilized disposable needles. In some cases, healing can be intensified by the use of an electric current attached to needles.

The inserted needles stimulate points and open up channels to facilitate the balanced flow of the energy, or qi (pronounced "Chi" in Chinese, recognised as "Ki" in Japanese, and called "nerve-energy potential" in the West) in the body. This is an assumed action mechanism of acupuncture. However, this theory dissatisfied scientists and to confirm the mechanism they performed experiments on animal models. It is evident now that the central nervous system (CNS) is involved in the area of acupuncture analgesia, where correlation has been observed between acupuncture point stimulation, onset of release of a variety of neurotransmitters, opioids and hormones in the brain, spinal cord, and peripheral circulation. Lately Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) supported that many effects of acupuncture are mediated through the CNS.

In 1979 the World Health Organization identified forty medical problems which could be corrected by acupuncture and in today's world acupuncture can treat many more health problems.

Acupuncture can treat several disorders of the body's major organs and systems. It can commonly be used to treat pain from migraines, headaches, neuralgia, sciatica, limbs and joints, frozen shoulder, arthritis, whiplash, tension headaches, TMJ, carpel tunnel syndrome, and planter fasciaitis. It can also be used for pain from abdominal problems, cancer, menstrual cramps, surgery, accidents, and sport injuries. It can be helpful in treating facial paralysis, neuropathy, Meniere's syndrome, bladder dysfunction, bedwetting, periarthritis, hiccough, gastritis, ulcers, colitis, constipation, diarrhoea, tonsillitis, pharyngitis, bronchitis, asthma, sinusitis, rhinitis, common cold, tonsillitis, skin diseases, allergies, and numbness. It can be used in weight management, as well as for treating addictions to coffee, alcohol, drugs, and smoking. It can also help with immune problems, impotency, infertility, and to induce labour pains. In recent years, acupuncture has gained popularity for facial rejuvenation and anti-aging. Currently, acupuncture is used as an anesthetic in surgeries and as an analgesic in the delivery of babies. Clinical research and case studies have proven that acupuncture is one of the safest and most effective of the various healing modalities.

The cost of an acupuncture treatment varies from place to place. Before a treatment, each patient is assessed for his/her health condition(s). The patient's medical history, intake of medicine, and supplements are recorded.

Acupuncture can be used as a therapy on its own, or it may be combined with prescriptions, herbs, vitamins, minerals, and homeopathy. It should not be combined simultaneously with other body work modalities. This is to stop excess stimulation, fatigue, and to observe the benefit of the modality.

The number of treatments required varies with each individual and condition being treated. For an acute health problem a few frequent treatments are required. For chronic conditions one or two treatments per week for several weeks are recommended. Usually treatment lasts from 15 to 40 minutes. After acupuncture one may notice immediate relief within a few hours, or after a day or two. Acupuncture has limitations, too. It is never a panacea as some claim.

At present in Canada only three provinces—BC, Alberta, and Quebec—have regulated acupuncture. Ontario is in the process of regulation. However, federal and provincial associations do register qualified acupuncturists in Saskatchewan. Registered acupuncturists are covered by some insurance companies for their services. Patients should visit not only a certified but a registered acupuncturist.

Wholife, Nov/Dec:10-11, (2006)