Acupuncture is an ancient Chinese medical procedure, in which needles are inserted into the patient along well-defined meridian points. Stone needles have been discovered that date back over four thousand years. Later needles were made of bronze, silver, or gold, while the modern needle is usually made of stainless steel.
There are more than 360 known stimulation points. These points are, according to the theory, direct access to stimulate the meridians, which are thought of as channels where vital energy flows. The insertion of needles, or other stimulation of these points, is said to interrupt, or to stimulate, the energy flow. This will then cause either an analgesic effect to reduce or eliminate pain, or will stimulate stronger energy flow to heal various conditions.
A variation of this is called acupressure, where the practitioner uses physical pressure to stimulate the meridians. This pressure is applied with the hands, fingers and sometimes the elbow or even the knee. This treatment is very popular in Japan and has many enthusiasts in the United States as well, where it is commonly called shiatsu.
The use of acupuncture is very common in Chinese hospitals for the blocking of pain during surgical procedures. Most Chinese doctors will agree that this is very effective for about thirty percent of patients, while western doctors studying this phenomenon put the number closer to ten percent. Today, applying a small electric current into the needle often provides the stimulation, as opposed to twisting and shaking it by hand. It has been shown quite effective for brain surgery and is claimed to be superior to drug induced anesthesia as it does not disrupt the bodies’ normal functioning and thus leads to fewer side effects.
Doctors in China have recorded good success using acupuncture to treat heart disease. In one study of six hundred patients suffering with chest pain due to decreased flow of blood to the heart, almost all were able to significantly reduce their need for medication and a large majority was able to return to active work. Other conditions, such as high blood pressure, appendicitis, asthma and ulcers have also been shown to respond well to this treatment.
In 1998, the United States National Health Institute, (NIH), reviewed several studies of the effectiveness of acupuncture and concluded that it is quite helpful in the reduction of nausea caused by chemotherapy, as well as that caused by pregnancy or drug induced analgesia. NIH also found it an effective treatment for post-dental surgery pain.
How this works from a scientific standpoint is not yet clear, but is undergoing continued study. An experiment conducted by both western and eastern scientists, which produced analgesic effects in rabbits, indicates that this is not just due to the power of suggestion as some had postulated. Enkephalins and endorphins are the body’s natural painkillers and were discovered in 1978. Many doctors now feel that acupuncture may increase the production of these substances and therefore produce the pain killing effects.
This is an area of study that should continue to be well investigated for the fantastic possible benefits to people.