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What is Acupuncture? What does it treat and how effective is it?
It is not correct to refer to “Traditional Chinese Acupuncture” as a universal form of acupuncture. There are more than 80 different acupuncture styles in China alone, in addition to many Japanese, Korean, Vietnamese, European and American styles.
What has enabled acupuncture to survive for such an incredibly long time in so many different geographical areas across different historical periods? It is important to understand that the longevity (5000 years) of acupuncture is not based on the exact procedure of any particular style, but on its powerful underlying mechanisms of healing.
The common feature shared by all different types of acupuncture is using needles to make lesions (holes) in the soft tissue (skin, muscle, etc.). Needles and needle-induced lesions activate the human built-in survival mechanisms that normalize the nervous system and promotes self-healing.
The nervous system is separated into two systems: the central (brain and spinal cord) and peripheral (nerves outside the brain and spinal cord).
Lesions stimulate the central nervous system that activates the principal survival systems: nervous, endocrine (glands and hormones), immune and cardiovascular systems to normalize the physiological (functions) activities in the whole body.
When treating soft tissue pain, needling makes lesions directly in the painful tissue and these locally activate nutrients and hormones for healing (nueroendocrine response), immune and cardiovascular reactions around the needling sites in painful tissue. These local “needle reactions” (blushing of skin) directly desensitize the painful nerves and repair damaged soft tissues, such as muscles, tendons, spinal discs, nerves, etc.
When treating internal disorders such as the stomache, we cannot directly create the “needle reaction” in stomach tissue, so needling segmental nerves (points on the skin) to active a nervous system reflex (cutaneovisceral), which creates a balance within the nervous system to promote self-healing of the stomach. This is an example of “indirect” treatment with acupuncture.
Clinical experience has proven that acupuncture can be effective for both peripheral soft tissue pain and internal disorders, but in the case of peripheral soft tissue pain the result is more predictable because of the local needle reaction.
One concept with acupuncture can not be overemphized: that acupuncture does not treat any particular pathological symptom but normalizes nervous system balance and promotes self healing. Everybody will respond differently depending on many factors such as overall health, length of symptoms, type of condition(s), self care and stress in life.
The Chinese have and old saying that nine of ten diseases produce pain, and according to statistics, 85% of the pain in our daily lives is soft tissue pain. This is why acupuncture is seen primarily as a modality for pain management in western societies.