How does acupuncture work?
A lot of research is now being carried out in the West to answer this question and provide evidence of how and why acupuncture works. It is a difficult question to answer from a western medical perspective but for thousands of years the idea that illness occurs when the body’s energy flow is blocked, has been sufficient for millions of people. Acupuncture helps to move these blockages, however nothing yet has provided a definitive explanation as to how.
Research shows that acupuncture causes the release of endorphins in the body (natural painkillers) and other hormones such as serotonin. It affects the adrenal glands. It also shows us that acupuncture effectively treats certain conditions and yet we are not entirely sure how it works. We just know that it does!
Does acupuncture work?
In short, yes! It has been the main form of treatment in the Far East for thousands of years; it could not have continued for so long if it did not work.
Acupuncture is effective because it aims to treat both the symptoms and the underlying causes of illness. In this way for example, it will look at the cause of the headache rather than just providing pain relief. The aim is to treat the root of the problem rather than simply suppressing the symptoms. Acupuncture can treat conditions which are not easily explained in western medicine.
“Acupuncture has been proven effective in relieving post operative pain, nausea during pregnancy, nausea and vomiting resulting from chemotherapy, and dental pain with extremely low side effects. It can also alleviate anxiety, panic disorders and insomnia”, World Health Organization website, 2006.
Cupping is an ancient technique used in traditional Chinese medicine to stimulate acupuncture points or larger areas of the body. It is often practised alongside acupuncture but can also be a ‘stand-alone’ treatment. The technique involves creating a vacuum inside round glass or bamboo cups by inserting a naked flame and removing it, then placing the cup quickly onto the area to be treated before the vacuum is lost. The cups are then left in place for anything up to 20 minutes. Cupping is most commonly used to treat colds and flu by shifting congestion in the chest and/or to relieve muscle and joint pain. It can also be used to treat digestive and gynaecological problems and to draw out toxins from the body. If large areas of the body need treating, a technique known as ‘sliding cups’ is used. A thin layer of massage oil is spread over the skin; the cups are placed onto the body in the normal way and then slid along the muscles being treated. This helps the blood and qi to flow more easily in stagnated areas. Cupping is not painful but can leave slightly red patches on the skin, like circular bruises. Although these marks resemble bruises, the muscles have not been traumatized in any way. The redness on the skin indicates that there has been movement in the circulation of blood under and around the cups. Not all cupping treatments will result in redness as this depends on the complaint being addressed. Cupping should be carried out by a properly trained practitioner, as there are contraindications for its use.
Moxibustion (Moxa)Moxibustion is a procedure whereby moxa - a dried herb, usually of the species mugwort (Latin name: Artemisia vulgaris) - is used either directly on the skin or just above the skin over specific acupuncture points or meridians. The herb is lit and as it smoulders slowly, heat permeates into the body and affects the flow of qi (energy) and blood in the area being treated. Moxa is often used when the patient’s complaint is diagnosed as a ‘cold’ condition. Moxa sticks are commonly used in more generalised areas (indirect moxibustion). The sticks resemble a large cigar or an oversized incense stick, which is lit at one end and then held about an inch above the point or area to be treated. The stick is usually rotated or a ‘pecking’ motion is used to allow the heat to penetrate the body. Direct moxibustion is more commonly used for specific areas that need treatment. Practitioners shape moxa into a tiny cone and place it directly onto the body. The cone is removed as soon as the patient feels heat. The choice of when, where and which form of moxibustion to use is a matter of clinical judgement for the properly trained practitioner as care is needed to ensure that the burning moxa does not make direct contact with the skin. Moxibustion is an essential part of Chinese medicine and cannot be omitted or substituted in most cases. As is the case with numerous other products, moxa has an odour when it burns. Although this odour is considered by many to be therapeutic, some people can be allergic to the smoke generated or to the odour itself in which case a smokeless variety can be found and utilised.