Acupuncture is an ancient medical art practiced for over 5000 years. It involves the insertion of fine needles, occasionally combined with electrical stimulation, on the body surface to influence the flow of QI throughout the body. Heat may also be used with acupuncture by burning herbs. This technique is called moxibustion. Finally, a non-invasive method of massage therapy, known as acupressure, can also be utilized besides the insertion of needles.

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The father of Chinese medicine, Shen Nung, proposed that the human body had an energy force flowing throughout it. This is QI. All essential life activities including the spiritual, emotional, physical and mental aspects of life are contained within QI. The universal forces of Yin and Yang, along with the flow of QI in the body influence an individual’s health. Illness may occur when the flow of QI is insufficient, blocked or unbalanced.

The channels along which the QI travels are “meridians.” These meridians are paired and run along both sides of the body. At the point where the meridians reach the surface of the skin are specific acupuncture points. These can be made accessible, either by the insertion of needles, moxibustion or acupressure.

QI comprises two parts, Yin and Yang. They are opposite forces which work together when balanced. If there is an even circulation of QI, then there is a balance between Yin and Yang. Yin and Yang are thrown out of balance when the energy flowing to the meridians becomes blocked, excessive, deficient or unbalanced.

There are many theories on how acupuncture works. It raises the levels of specific hormones, antibody levels and endorphins – which is a natural pain reliever.

The World Health Organization recognizes the use of acupuncture to treat:

  • digestive disorders,
  • respiratory disorders,
  • neurological disorders,
  • musculoskeletal disorders,
  • urinary disorders,
  • menstrual disorders, and
  • reproductive problems.

Medical acupuncture is a term used to describe acupuncture performed by a medical doctor trained and licensed in western medicine, who has also had specific training in acupuncture as a specialty practice. A medical acupuncturist can use one and/or the other approach to treat an illness.

The advantage of medical acupuncture is that there are usually no side effects to the treatment. Occasionally, the symptoms may worsen for a few days, and there may also be temporary changes in sleep, emotional states or appetite. If such symptoms occur, they are transient and usually resolve with rest.

Tania Faruque MD is the medical director of Palomar Spine & Pain, in Escondido, CA (North San Diego County).

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