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Acupuncture, an age-old medical procedure
Tue, 13 May 2008 20:15:32
By Patricia Khashayar, MD., Press TV, Tehran
Acupuncture is a traditional Chinese system of healing that dates back thousands of years ago
when meditation and observing the relation between man, nature and the universe was
considered the core of medicine.
Fu His, the most important figure in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), formulated the first two
major forces in the universe, creation and reception. This duality known as Yin-Yang forms the
backbone of acupuncture.
Chinese were not the only ones who used this art; there are numerous accounts of the
Egyptians, the South African Bantu tribesman, the Arabs, Eskimos and Brazilian cannibals using
similar treatment methods.
The practice of acupuncture in China is traced back to the Stone Age; however, the first known
acupuncture text, 'Yellow Emperor's Classic of Internal Medicine' by the father of Chinese
Medicine Huangdi, dates back to 305-204 BC.
From 260-265 AD, the famous physician Huang Fu Mi, gathered all the manuscripts on
acupuncture to write the 'Systematic Classics of Acupuncture and Moxibustion', in which he
described 349 acupuncture points.
During the Song Dynasty (960-1279), Wang Weiyi wrote 'The Illustrated Manual on Points for
Acupuncture and Moxibustion' in which he described 657 acupuncture points.
The Ming Dynasty (1568-1644) witnessed the advancement of acupuncture. In this period, Yang
Jizhou wrote the 'Principles of Acupuncture and Moxibustion', which is considered as the
foundation of the teachings of G. Soulie de Morant who introduced Acupuncture to Europe.
When Chang Khi Chek took power in 1932 and brought western medicine to the country,
acupuncture was banned because it was deemed 'a bar to progress'.
When Mao Tse Tung, the leader of the Communist Party, took over in 1945, acupuncture again
was restored as the method of healing in order to decrease dependency on antibiotics and
western medical thinking.
Since then, acupuncture has played an important role in the Chinese medical system. In 1972,
an American journalist who underwent an emergency appendectomy with acupuncture used as
the anesthetic introduced the method to the US.
Dr Nogier was the first person to bring acupuncture to Europe. He performed a great deal of
research between 1951 and 1996 on ear acupuncture; his findings are the basis of today's
treatment for addiction.
Acupuncture or needle puncture, is a European term invented by Willem Ten Rhyne, a Dutch
physician who visited Nagasaki in Japan in the early 17th century. The Chinese used the term
'Chen', literally meaning 'to prick with a needle', to describe this therapeutic technique.
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Acupuncture is founded on the belief that all living creatures have a vital energy called 'qi', which
is in charge of the spiritual, emotional, mental and the physical aspects of life.
The force circulates in the body through 14 invisible energy lines known as meridians. Each half
of the body contains 6 organ meridians and 2 unpaired ones in the midline.
Qi is comprised of two fractions, yin and yang, which are opposite aspects of the material world.
Yin moves medially and signifies female attributes; it is passive, dark, cold and moist. Yang
moves laterally and indicates male attributes; it is light, active, warm and dry.
Acupuncture is closely associated with Taoism. According to the Taoists, health is an attempt to
attain harmony between the opposing forces of the natural world, yin and yang. In other words,
any upset in the balance will result in natural calamities and diseases.
An acupuncturist traditionally diagnoses a patient's problem by feeling three pulses on each
wrist, determining which ancient meridians are or are not affected. The shape and color of the
skin and the tongue as well as the posture and other physical characteristics also provide useful
clues about the patient's general health.
Armed with this information, the acupuncturist devises a treatment protocol using a combination
of ear and body points.
Acupuncture points are specific locations where the meridians can be easily needled. To restore
balance and a healthy energy flow to the body, needles are inserted in acupoints and left in place
for a few minutes.
Although how acupuncture works is not yet clear, researchers believe needling and other
techniques used in this method may produce a variety of effects in the body and the brain.
- Acupuncture stimulates the release of pain-relieving endorphins
- Acupuncture influences the release of neurotransmitters, substances that transmit nerve
impulses to the brain
- Acupuncture influences the autonomic nervous system
- Acupuncture stimulates circulation
- Acupuncture influences the electrical currents of the body, increasing the pain threshold
causing long-term pain relief.
- The 'Gate Control' theory suggests the perception of pain is controlled by a part of the nervous
system known as 'gate'. If the gate is hit with too many impulses, it becomes overwhelmed and
This theory explains how acupuncture overcomes certain forms of paralysis.
The following are related procedures that fall into the range of acupuncture treatments:
In this technique, small electrical impulses of a few microamperes are sent through the
acupuncture needles. This method is generally used for analgesia.
Lasers and sound waves (Sonopuncture) are other methods used for stimulating acupoints.
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Acupuncture and Moxibustion are commonly used together. In this technique, the acupuncturist
applies the heat resulted from burning the herb moxa (the dried leaves of Artemisia vulgaris) on
acupoints to treat various diseases.
The Chinese used the term 'Chiu' meaning 'to scar with a burning object' to describe the art of
moxibustion. Today, moxibustion is used for treating bronchial asthma, bronchitis, arthritic
disorders and certain types of paralysis.
Cupping is another type of treatment, in which acupupoints are stimulated by applying suction
through a metal, wood or glass cup. It is used to treat backaches, sprains, soft tissue injuries as
well as relieving fluid from the lungs in chronic bronchitis.
Acupressure is one of the most popular alternatives to acupuncture; simply speaking, it is
acupuncture without needles. In this method, acupoints are stimulated with the fingers or an
instrument with a hard ball shaped head.
Reflexology (Zone Therapy) is another variation of acupressure. In this method, the soles of the
feet and the posterio-inferior regions of the ankle joints are stimulated to treat diseases of the
- Auriculotherapy or Ear Acupuncture:
Ear acupuncture is a particularly useful method based on the theory that as the ears have rich
nerve and blood supplies they are the place where all the channels meet. The ears are believed
to encompass several acupoints.
Auricular acupuncture has shown successful results in treating problems ranging from obesity
and alcoholism to drug addiction.
In 1996, the FDA approved the use of acupuncture needles by licensed practitioners. By law,
disposable needles must be used to prevent infection and the transmission of diseases such as
hepatitis B, C and HIV.
Despite the absence of strong scientific evidence, acupuncture has been proven effective in
treating several conditions particularly in pain relief and post-surgery and chemotherapy-
associated nausea and vomiting.
When performed by a trained professional, acupuncture is generally considered safe; however, a
number of complications have been reported following the procedure including hematoma and
nerve injury due to damaging the adjacent organs.
Brain damage and stroke, pneumothorax and kidney damage are possible with very deep
needling at the base of skull, into the lung and in the lower back, respectively.
There is also the danger, common to all alternative therapies, of not seeking proper medical
treatment because of an over reliance on alternatives.
Individuals taking anticoagulants may experience bleeding problems with acupuncture. Those