Acupuncture – An Alternative Health Care System


Acupuncture – An Alternative Health Care System

What is Acupuncture?

Acupuncture is a form of alternative medicine in which thin needles are inserted into the body. This procedure involves the stimulation of anatomical locations on or in the skin by a variety of techniques. Mostly it employs penetration of the skin by thin, solid, metallic needles, which are manipulated manually or by electrical stimulation.

Acupuncture is a holistic care approach to health care where the primary focus is the core condition and/or the main complaint. Often times when treating these aspects, secondary complaints fade away and are no longer bothersome. This can be seen as beneficial side effects of acupuncture.

Origin and Reach in the West

Acupuncture is a 3,000-year-old healing technique of Traditional Chinese Medicine. The general theory of acupuncture is based on the premise that there are patterns of energy flow (Qi) through the body that are essential for health. Disruptions of this flow are believed to be responsible for the disease. Acupuncture corrects imbalances of flow at identifiable points close to the skin.

The general interest in this alternative medicine was generated after President Nixon’s visit to China in 1972. Until then, the practice of acupuncture to treat identifiable pathophysiological (disease) conditions in American medicine was rare. In 1997, the U.S. National Institutes of Health (NIH) documented and publicized acupuncture’s safety and efficacy for treating a wide range of conditions. Since then, there has been an explosion of interest in the United States and Europe. There are various approaches to diagnosis and treatment in American acupuncture that incorporate medical traditions from China, Japan, Korea, and other countries.

How does it work?

Yin and Yang, in essence, is at the root of Chinese medical theory. The principle holds the basic understanding that dualities, that are unified and unchanging, keep everything in balance. The body consists of both yin and yang aspects and to maintain health, these dualities need to harmoniously support and depend on each other for existence.

Acupuncture, herbal therapy, massage and meditation are key components to Oriental medicine. Herbs are used to reinforce the Chinese diagnosis given and are influential to the speed of recovery. Formulas are prescribed and administered in capsule or pill form. Touch is extremely beneficial to the healing process, making massage an invaluable aspect of the medicine. Shiatsu and tuina massage are both physical therapies given alongside needles in a treatment. While receiving an acupuncture treatment is often very meditative, one is also encouraged to have a personal meditation practice at home. The acupuncture points are chosen based on palpitation results and the verbal discussion between patient and practitioner. Points are placed over the entire body and work together to send a clear message of healing. Receiving acupuncture is generally painless and relaxing.

Cupping Therapy

Usually cupping therapy forms part of acupuncture treatment. The theory behind cupping is that it moves or stimulates the body’s natural energy – also called qi. Cupping therapy involves heating the air inside a glass cup, which removes some of the air from the cup. The cup is then quickly placed on the skin, and the resulting vacuum pulls the skin part of the way into the cup. This action stimulates the skin by opening the pores, which encourages the flow of blood to the area, removes obstructions, draws out toxins, and realigns the flow of the body. This method can be beneficial to pain syndromes, respiratory and GI conditions, arthritis, colds/flu, and stress.


Moxabustion, often shortened to moxa, is a therapy that involves the burning of a specific herb called Mugwort at acupuncture points. The herb is dried and then burned. Moxa is a nourishing treatment that is warming, energizing and promotes circulation.

There are many forms of moxa used. Direct moxa is when loose moxa is rolled into tiny cones and then placed on the skin’s surface. An anti-burn cream is used to prevent any harm. This method is used when moxa at a very specific point is required. An alternative to this method is called warming needle technique. This is when the moxa is placed on the tip of the needle at a specific acupuncture point. Indirect moxa is when a moxa pole is held above the skin and moved to the area being treated. A moxa pole can be placed inside a metal casing called a tiger warmer. This is an indirect treatment that has the ability to cover a larger treatment area. Conditions treated by this method involves:

Physical tension and pain

  • Cold conditions, and general stiffness.
  • Clinical experience has shown moxa to be useful for mental-emotional conditions as well.

An Alternative System of Health Care

Today, more allopathic physicians accept acupuncture as an alternative treatment. Nowadays, a wider range of illnesses and conditions are being considered for acupuncture treatment. Even though acupuncture is commonly used on its own for some conditions, it is becoming very popular as a combination treatment by doctors in Western Europe and North America. The use of acupuncture to alleviate pain and nausea after surgery is becoming more widespread.

Acupuncture may help in treating low back pain, fibromyalgia, migraines, post-operative dental pain, hypertension, and osteoarthritis as well as chemotherapy-induced nausea and vomiting. Other studies have shown that acupuncture may help women with painful periods. A study found that Exercise and electro-acupuncture treatments can reduce sympathetic nerve activity in women with polycystic ovarian syndrome. Acupuncture may help indigestion symptoms commonly experienced by pregnant women.