Miracle Touch: A Complete Guide to Hands-On Therapies That Have the Amazing Ability to Heal
By Debra Fulghum Bruce
What Is It?
With acupuncture, the practitioner stimulates Qi by inserting needles into meridians, the veinlike routes under the surface of the skin. By twisting the needles, energy blocks are removed and the balance and flow of energy along the pathway are restored.
Where Did It Come From?
Although acupuncture was developed after acupressure, it has been practiced in China for thousands of years. In early times, the Chinese thought disease was closely related to the vascular system, and treatment often involved bleeding with sharp stones. The wind, originally regarded as a demon and an agent of illness, was believed to reside in caves or tunnels. In acupuncture literature, the term for caves is used to designate the holes in the skin through which the Qi flows into and out of the body. Ancient Chinese practitioners thought that by inserting different kinds of needles into these holes, the flow of Qi could be increased or decreased to achieve a more normal state of health.
Acupuncture came to the United States in the late 1800s but has become increasingly popular in the past two decades. At this time, there are more than twenty thousand certified and licensed practitioners, and more than three thousand of these are conventional medical doctors.
How Does It Work?
While experts believe acupuncture works by releasing chemicals in die brain that block pain perception, there are some new studies that suggest peripheral nerve stimulation can modify functional responses within the brain. In this way, die patients pain tolerance is increased so that one acupuncture treatment may last weeks in helping to alleviate chronic pain.
Every acupuncture treatment begins with four types of examination:
Asking: The acupuncturist first asks you about your general health.
Looking: The practitioner will then note your appearance, posture, skin coloration, and tongue.
Listening: Next he will listen to your breathing patterns, speech, and tone of voice.
Smelling and touching: The last and most important step of the examination involves touching your skin and taking an accurate pulse.
To receive the treatment, you will lie down on a table or sit in a chair, so the practitioner has access to the skin at specific points. When the tiny needle is inserted into one point on the body, it stimulates nerves in the underlying muscles. According to scientists, this stimulation sends impulses up the spinal cord to the limbic system, a primitive part of the brain. The impulses also go to the midbrain and the pituitary gland. Studies have shown that acupuncture may alter brain chemistry by changing the release of neurotransmitters, biochemical substances that stimulate or inhibit nerve impulses in the brain that relay information about external stimuli and sensations. Studies have also shown that acupuncture affects the parts of the central nervous system related to sensation and involuntary body functions, such as immune reactions and processes whereby your blood pressure, blood flow, and body temperature are regulated.
What's It Good For?
According to a National Institute of Health (NIH) consensus panel of scientists, researchers, and practitioners who convened in November 1997, clinical studies have shown that acupuncture is an effective treatment for nausea caused by surgical anesthesia and cancer chemotherapy, it also soothes dental pain experienced after surgery. The panel found that acupuncture is useful by itself or combined with conventional therapies to treat addiction, headaches, menstrual cramps, tennis elbow, fibromyalgia, myofascial pain, osteoarthritis, lower back pain, carpal tunnel syndrome, and asthma; it can also assist in stroke rehabilitation.
Where's the Science?
There have been a host of physician-led studies on effective acupuncture treatment.
In a recent study published in the British Medical Journal, researchers at Ludwig-Maximilians University in Germany studied the effect of acupuncture on patients suffering with chronic neck pain, including those who had myofascial pain syndrome lasting more than five years. (Myofascial pain syndrome is muscle pain in specific areas of the neck that may be caused by physical or emotional tension.) Just one week after receiving an acupuncture treatment, more than half of those treated with acupuncture reported greater than 50 percent improvement in pain.
In another small study published in the June 9, 2001, British Dental Journal, researchers at Kings College in London concluded that acupuncture may help to ease the gag reflex during dental work. In the study, researchers selected ten patients who had to be sedated before any routine dental work or procedures to avoid gagging. Realizing that one of the main nerves involved in swallowing also supplies the part of the ear that houses the antigagging acupuncture point, researchers used ear acupuncture on the study participants. Afterward, all ten patients were able to go through their dental procedures without sedation.