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Introduction to Acupuncture

Acupuncture is part of a 2500 year old science of natural healing called Traditional Chinese Medicine, which also includes Asian bodywork therapy (Shiatsu, Tui Na, Thai massage) as well as Chinese Herbal therapy. Acupuncture has become an accepted treatment modality worldwide, is currently regulated and licensed by the governments of Germany, France, Britain, Australia, China, Japan, Korea, many of the United States, British Columbia, Quebec and Alberta, and is recognized by the World Health Organization as an effective form of natural health care for many conditions, including:

  • Infertility, Fertility Enhancement, and Assisted Reproductive Technolgy
  • Anxiety and depression
  • Headaches and migraines
  • Stress, Insomnia and fatigue
  • PMS and menopausal syndrome
  • Hypertension and high blood pressure
  • Paralysis due to stroke
  • Neck pain, whiplash, and shoulder pain
  • Trauma: Sprains, Strains, & Broken Bones
  • Acute and chronic back pain; sciatica
  • Indigestion, nausea, and GI concerns
  • Constipation, diarrhea, and bowel disorders
  • Chemo and radio-therapy support

How does acupuncture work?
Acupuncture needles are inserted into empirically specific points, called acupuncture points, acupoints, or tsubos, located along the organ meridians or the extraordinary vessels to stimulate the smooth flow of Qi. According to TCM, this promotes the proper functioning of the muscles, nerves, vessels, glands and organs, affecting the body's immune system, heart rate, brain activity and blood pressure. Modern Acupuncture uses extremely thin, sterile, laser made, disposable needles to regulate the vital force, or Qi, that courses through the meridians of all living organisms. TCM postulates that pain and illness is caused by an obstruction of the flow of Qi in one part of the body and an accompanying depletion of Qi in another part of the body. The needles are used to set up an energetic pattern to remove the obstruction, fill the depletion, and encourage the smooth flow of the vital force throughout the body, returning the individual to their optimal level of well being.

Many western doctors and researchers believe that these points can stimulate the nervous system to release endorphins and other naturally occurring chemicals and hormones that affect pain perception, mood, and overall health.

Acupuncture appears to affect the central nervous system, including the spinal cord, mid-brain and hypothalamus-pituitary complex.1 It seems to release endorphins (enkephalin or dynorphin, but not B-endorphin) into the spinal column, inhibiting transmission of a painful message from one cell to the next. In the mid-brain, acupuncture appears to stimulate the release of enkephalin (an endorphin), which eventually leads to the release of seratonin or norepinephrine into the spinal cord, either of which can suppress pain transmission. The action in the pituitary-hypothalamic complex due to acupuncture is known, but much less understood: it appears that beta-endorphins and ACTH (adrenocorticotrophic hormone) are co-released; the ACTH hormone travels to the adrenal cortex, releasing cortisol into the blood, which may explain why acupuncture is helpful in blocking the inflammation of arthritis and broncospasms of asthma.

Studies have also shown that acupuncture promotes vasodilation and increases blood flow. As well, studies have suggested that acupuncture can induce decreases in blood concentration of triglycerides, cholesterol, and phospholipids. Acupuncture's reported influence to positively affect our immune system is due to our understanding that endorphins seem to be mediators between the central nervous system and the immune system: beta-endorphins and met-enkephalin have been shown to enhance natural killer cell activity.2

In double blind clinical trails, acupuncture has proven effective in treating chronic pain, helping from 55% to 85% of patients.3 This compares favorably with the effectiveness of potent drugs, such as morphine, which helps in 70% of cases. Acupuncture is currently being used in the United States, and in some parts of British Columbia and Ontario, Canada, as part of court-ordered, drug withdrawal, detoxification programs. In an impressive study, 42% of alcoholics remained alcohol free for three months, and an additional 28% drank much less.4 These are phenomenal numbers when compared with any other type of drug therapy.

There are also clinically controlled studies showing acupuncture more effective than a placebo, and comparing favorably with conventional therapies, for the treatment of headaches and craniofacial pain, cervical and lumbar-sacral pain, asthma, chemically induced nausea, gynecological disorders such as dysmenorrhea, amenorrhea, paralysis due to stroke, and primary hypertension. In the first government-funded clinical study in the United States on acupuncture, it was shown to compare favorably with conventional drug therapies in the treatment of depression.

  1. Pomeranz, B., Stux, G.: Scientific Basis of Acupuncture. Berlin: Springer-Verlag, 1989.
  2. Helms, J.M., Acupuncture Energetics: A Clinical Approach for Physicians, Medical Acupuncture Publishers, 1995.
  3. Lewith, G.T., Machine, D.: On the Evaluation of the Clinical Effects of Acupuncture. Pain, 16, 1983.
    Patel, M. et al: Acupuncture and Chronic Pain: Journal of clinical Epidemiology, 43, 1990.
  4. Bullock, M. et al: Controlled Trial for Severe Recidivist Alcoholism: The Lancet, 1, 1989

Does acupuncture hurt?
Acupuncture is said to not be painful, but that does not mean that there are no sensations involved. With modern needles, the likelihood of eliciting pain is minimized. Although the needles are extremely thin and sharp, their tips are actually rounded to allow them to "slide" as much as possible through the skin, off of nerves and sinews, causing as little trauma as possible to the tissue.

The initial insertion of the needle may resemble a small prick, but is often not felt at all. After the needle has been inserted, the acupuncturist may manipulate the needle to reach "de Qi". Reaching the level of Qi, or vital force, is usually accompanied by a sensation of distention, throbbing, a feeling radiating to another part of the body, or a brief electrical sensation. The only sensation that the acupuncturist does not want is one of sharp, cutting pain, which implies that the needle is on a nerve or has tissue wrapped up on it: in this case the needle is simply moved, and no harm is done.

After "de Qi" has been reached, the needles may be left alone or manipulated a few times during treatment, dependent on what type of message the acupuncturist wants to transmit. The needles are usually left in for 10 - 45 minutes. During this time it is not uncommon to notice various sensations in different parts of the body, or even "feelings", arising. These sensations, or feelings, often denote obstructions in the flow of the vital force, and the client may be instructed to simply observe the feelings and sensations arising without judgement, or use the breath, and the power of imagination, to encourage the smooth flow through the obstructed area.

Many people are pleased to find that relaxation and an elevation of spirit usually accompany an acupuncture session. People often fall asleep during treatment.

Do I need to be ill or in pain to benefit from acupuncture?
Absolutely not. A Chinese saying states that:
"Going to a physician after you become ill, is like beginning to dig a well after you have become thirsty, or beginning to manufacture weapons after you have declared war".

The strength of all Traditional Chinese Medicine is in its ability to prevent illness and to maintain optimal health. Different acupuncture treatments may be used to balance and encourage the smooth flow of Qi, Blood and Emotions throughout the body, support and stimulate the Organ Meridians, balance the ayurvedic chakra system, and prepare the individual for the changes of season.
Four balancing treatments a year are suggested.

What kind of needles do you use?
We use only high quality, laser made, stainless steel, sterile, single use needles. They are used once, and then properly disposed of.

Who is qualified to practice acupuncture?
The question is easy if there is licensing in your Province or State: contact a Provincially or State licensed acupuncturist and see if you can work with them.

If there is no licensing in your Province or State (as in Ontario), you will have to ask a few questions. The minimum educational standard for acupuncture practice in North America, Europe, Japan and China, is a 3-4 year, full time, university degree program. You may want to go to the National Certification Commission for Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine web site National Certification Commission for Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine (NCCAOM) to find qualified practitioners in your area.