Art of Healing: Acupuncture and Acupressure

For the past 3,000 years, Chinese physicians have been using acupuncture to treat a wide range of ills. Modern medical research has been able to confirm the value of the healing art, while even most skeptics have accepted acupuncture as at least a safe, noninvasive way to alleviate pain.

An estimated 70 million Americans are affected by chronic pain. This pain, which can last for months or years, interferes with every aspect of their lives, including work, travel, home, and hobbies. Chronic pain contributes to a host of secondary problems, such as depression, insomnia, irritability, and anxiety, which are themselves health risks. Conventional physicians treat pain with powerful prescription drugs, electrical stimulation, nerve blocks, and other procedures, but these treatments don’t always work and they can have serious side effects. Worse, none of them cure pain; they only suppress or manage symptoms.

Chronic pain’s true cause is a disruption of the body’s energy system caused by stored trauma, unhappy memories, or toxic emotions. Gentle fingertip tapping on key acupuncture points combined with focused thought corrects the disruption, allows energy to flow normally, and alleviates symptoms all at the same time.

Acupuncture works by inserting needles into specific points on the body and gently twirling or vibrating them. Still, some folks just don’t like needles. If you fall into this category, the good news is that there is a noninvasive option called acupressure, which works by pressing deeply on those same spots with a knuckle, finger, elbow or any of several tools specially designed for the purpose.

However, just how acupuncture and acupressure works is still a matter of debate. Numerous studies conducted during the past 30 years or more have confirmed some of the claims, but a number of scientific studies have found little or no effect on some illnesses, while others have been criticized for the way they were conducted. As a result, Western medical science does not have a single, widely-accepted theory to explain its effectiveness.

In 2005, George Lewith, Jeremie Pariente and Peter J. White reported in an Oxford University medical journal that brain imaging studies provided evidence to support the theory that certain acupuncture points have distinct physical effects that could not be explained by knowledge of anatomy alone. “Specific acupuncture points associated with hearing and vision,” they wrote, “stimulates the visual and auditory cerebral areas respectively.”

The traditional Chinese explanation for how acupuncture and acupressure works is based on the idea of “meridians,” pathways that direct the flow of energy through the body. This is what the Chinese call chi (qi). There is no Western medical equivalent of these meridians – or for the vital life force running through them, for that matter. In the traditional explanation, the qi energy runs through 20 meridians, 12 of them connected to the body’s internal organs and eight “extraordinary meridians” that control other bodily processes and provide connections among the other channels.

According to the principles of Chinese medicine, diseases and illness are produced by blockages that disrupt the free flow of qi through the meridians. Acupuncture and acupressure identify close to 650 points where stimulation or pressure can relieve these blockages, allowing the body to function in harmony again.

One area of support for the concept of meridians comes from anthropology. Both the ancient Mayas and Incas of Mesoamerica described almost identical energy pathways in the body, which they “discovered” independently. In a 1999 book, authors Hernan Garcia and Sierra Antonio described the Mayan concept of “wind in the blood” and said most of the Maya acupuncture points corresponded to those in Chinese medicine, while the Inca medicine people talked about “rivers of light” flowing the “luminous body” along the same paths mapped out by the Chinese acupuncturists.

The debate goes on because modern scientific medicine tends to reject what it cannot measure or explain. Traditional healers rely instead on experiences and focus on function over form. In their eyes, the proof that meridians exist is that when they apply their theory, it often works to treat a range of ills, including dizziness, morning sickness, sprains, high blood pressure, headaches and even the common cold.

In the United States of America, the frequency of acupuncture side effects is one per million, which is a very low frequency. Examples of conditions recommended for acupuncture by the World Health Organization (W.H.O.) are: Acute sinusitis, acute rhinitis, common cold, bronchial asthma, toothache, tennis elbow, sciatica, low back pain, rheumatoid arthritis, constipation, diarrhea, headache, migraine, trigeminal neuralgia, facial paralysis and nocturnal enuresis. A landmark study (2004) funded by the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM) and the National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases (NIAMS), both components of the National Institutes of Health, has shown that acupuncture provides pain relief and improves function for people with osteoarthritis of the knee and serves as an effective complement to standard care.

Needle acupuncture is the most used form of acupuncture. Most patients feel no or very minimal pain sensation during needle acupuncture treatment. Patients may need a number of visits. Ten visits are considered one course of treatment and some patients may need more than one course.

Finally, you need to find a qualified acupuncturist to visit. You can find a qualified acupuncturist by advice from your physician or by contacting national acupuncture organizations, which you can find at public libraries or on the world wide web.

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