Acupuncture is the insertion of needles into the body for the treatment of disease. It has been practiced in China for at least 4500 years. Currently, it is practiced throughout the world. Chinese Medicine is the use of herbal preparations.
Acupuncture and Chinese Medicine was essentially unknown in the United States until President Nixon's visit to China in the early 70's. James Reston of the New York Times was treated with acupuncture while serving as a member of the US press corp in China. His first-person account was widely publicized in the US. By the mid-1970's many states had legalized the practice of acupuncture. The growth of public interest in and utilization of acupuncture coincided with the use of other alternative medicines. In 1993, it was reported in the New England Journal of Medicine that the use of alternative medicine had exceeded 14 billion dollars with Americans making over 9 million visits for acupuncture treatment in 1994. A survey conducted by the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine in 1996 found medical schools including Harvard, Stanford, and UCLA had established courses in alternative medicines.
The development of Chinese Medicine and acupuncture predates Western scientific theory. The basic theories were developed through several millennia of careful observation of changes in the human body caused by acupuncture and herbal medicines. The concepts that they used were borrowed from the events observed from the natural environment. The basis of Chinese Medicine and acupuncture is the concept of Qi (chi), life force, or energy. This energy is continuously generated and flows in 12 major meridians. It also has 2 polarities: yin and yang. When these forces are balanced and the energy flows harmoniously in the 12 meridians, the body is then in a state of health. When these energies are unbalanced by pathogenic factors, the flow of these energies become disturbed; the body is then diseased. Acupuncture is the effort to reverse these pathologic changes by changing the flow of the energy in the meridians by insertion and manipulation of needles on points along the meridians.
Over the past decade, Chinese Medicine and acupuncture research, which began in China, has now been continued and extended in the United States and Europe. There are now several thousand scientific articles and studies published in Western medical journals about the effectiveness of these techniques in clinical trials. We have discovered that acupuncture controls pain through the production and secretion of neurotransmitters like beta-endorphin. For the first time in history, we are beginning to understand the basic mechanisms of acupuncture. Science has given us tools that allows us see how this amazing therapy works its magic. At the same time, acupuncture and Chinese medicine has given western medicine new ways to understand the human body. Twenty-first Century America is the most exciting place and time to practice Chinese medicine and acupuncture.
Most people come to my office through referrals from friends or family who have experienced good results with acupuncture. Recently patients have been referred to acupuncture by their physicians. At the first visit, I will interview and examine the patient and then decide whether or not acupuncture is useful for the patient. If acupuncture is an appropriate modality, I will recommend a series of acupuncture treatments The number of treatments varies with the clinical setting, but usually within a series of five treatments the patient should begin to feel better.
Most people are concerned about the needles. Usually, there is just a momentary pinch. In some cases the needles cannot be felt at all. My patients tell me that it is much less unpleasant than receiving a shot. The needles themselves are sterile vary in length from one-half inch to six inches and are of surgical grade stainless steel. The depth of needle insertion varies depending upon the acupuncture point. Most needles are inserted just below the skin, but some may be as deep as three inches. When the acupuncture point is reached, there is a feeling of "dechi." Once the needles have been inserted, they are left in place for 20 minutes and then removed.
Hong GG. Acupuncture: The Historical Basis and Its US Practitioners, Laboratory Medicine, Volume 29, Number 4, March 1998, pp. 163-166
Hong GG. The Scientific Understanding and Applications of Acupuncture, Laboratory Medicine, Volume 29, Number 4, April 1998, pp. 233-238