Acupuncture Facts and Myths

3500 years of Facts, Myths & History

Acupuncture has been in use for over 3500 years and today provides relief to more than 20 million people worldwide.
Stanford, John Hopkins, UCLA, and Harvard Universities, as well as other advanced medical centres around the world employ acupuncture in treatments.

Contents

CHAPTER 1

Acupuncture Facts

CHAPTER 2

Acupuncture Myths

CHAPTER 3

Acupuncture FAQs

CHAPTER 1

Facts: Understanding Acupuncture

These 11 curious facts may both surprise and enlighten you.

Acupuncture, a key component of traditional Chinese medicine, is administered by a practitioner who inserts ultra-thin, flexible stainless steel needles into the body to help relieve a variety of symptoms and to restore the body’s balance, or Qi (pronounced chee).

The earliest acupuncture needles were made of stone and animal bone

Acupuncture is an attribute of traditional Chinese medicine but it may have been practiced in Eurasia during the Stone Age.

Archaeologists discovered evidence of needles from the Neolithic era (about 5,000 BC) suggesting acupuncture was practiced during the Stone Age in many parts of Eurasia. The Chinese, however, preserved and developed the practice, creating needles with bamboo, and metals like copper, silver, iron, bronze, or gold. Today’s acupuncture needles are stainless steel, flexible, and considerably thinner than their predecessors.
Blue Green Dragon Needle [CC BY 4.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Your tongue is a key indicator of your health

Acupuncturists use four diagnostic methods to learn about your health, one of which is a close examination of your tongue.

An acupuncturist determines which points to treat by diagnosing the patient’s health in four ways.
Analysis of the face and particularly the tongue provides essential information because the tongue is associated with the body’s internal organs and meridians. Meridians are pathways within the body where energy (Qi) flows. Meridians coincide with the organ system they flow through and reveal the health of those organs.

Each area of the tongue corresponds to specific organs.

  • The left and right side of the tongue: liver and gallbladder
  • The center of the tongue: stomach and spleen
  • The tip of the tongue: heart and lungs
  • The back of the tongue: large and small intestine, bladder, and kidney
The tongue’s shape, size, surface, tension, texture, coating, and the presence or absence of teeth marks all offer valuable clues.
The colour of the tongue, for example, indicates the body’s internal temperature, reveals a hot or cold condition and offers information about the circulation of the liver and heart.
Further examination of the patient includes identifying unusual body odours, listening for wheezing, irregular heartbeat, and gut sounds.
Palpitation of the body can identify tenderness, pulse rate, and internal swellings.
The acupuncturist will also inquire about the patient’s fever or chills, sleep patterns, elimination systems, perspiration, appetite, menses, and bodily discharges.
Chinese tongue diagnosis chart [CC BY 4.0], via Wikimedia Commons

The World Health Organization lists 200 symptoms and diseases that acupuncture can help

Journalist James Reston, who accompanied President Nixon to China in 1971, reported his experiences and observations about the effectiveness of acupuncture following surgery for acute appendicitis in Peking.

The World Health Organization lists 200 medical conditions that could benefit from the use of acupuncture including the treatment of pain, addictions to alcohol, tobacco, and other drugs, the treatment of asthma and bronchitis, treatment of nausea and vomiting, and rehabilitation from neurological damage.
Reston described his experience in his report. Here is an excerpt:

A New York Times journalist opened America’s door to acupuncture after an emergency appendectomy in China

Millions of North American patients use acupuncture administered by certified acupuncturists, physicians, dentists, and other practitioners to relieve or prevent pain and to treat many health conditions.

“I was in considerable discomfort if not pain during the second night after the operation, and Li Chang-yuan, doctor of acupuncture at the hospital, with my approval, inserted three long, thin needles into the outer part of my right elbow and below my knees and manipulated them in order to stimulate the intestine and relieve the pressure and distension of the stomach.
The other doctors watched him manipulate the needles in my body and then circle his burning herbs over my abdomen with obvious respect. Prof. Li Pang-chi said later that he had not been a believer in the use of acupuncture techniques “but a fact is a fact—there are many things they can do.”

Acupuncturists require extensive education to practice in BC

Pacific Rim College offers training to practice acupuncture beginning with 4 to 5 years of education after which the applicant can apply for the Pan-Canadian Registration Exam.

The Pacific Rim College website states: “To practice acupuncture in British Columbia, one must become a registered practitioner with College of Traditional Chinese Medicine Practitioners and Acupuncturists (CTCMA) of BC. The CTCMA, BC’s only governing body for the practice of acupuncture and Traditional Chinese Medicine, requires that any registered practitioner must successfully complete two years (60 credits) of university education in liberal arts or sciences and must also earn an acupuncture diploma from an approved program in BC. The former can be completed before, during or after studying acupuncture.”
Students must also have minimum of 1900 hours of practice, including between 450 and 600 hours of practical clinical training.

Acupuncture is a diverse medical tradition with many styles and sub styles

Millions of North American patients use acupuncture administered by certified acupuncturists, physicians, dentists, and other practitioners to relieve or prevent pain and to treat many health conditions.

Five Element Traditional Acupuncture has been used in traditional Chinese medicine as a method of diagnosis and treatment for over 2000 years and is based on the five elements of nature – wood, fire, water, earth, and metal. All five elements should, ideally, be in balance. Each element corresponds to an emotion, and organ, a colour, a taste, a sense, an emotion, a body tissue and a season.
Japanese Acupuncture has seven things that differentiate it from Chinese traditional acupuncture. In Japanese acupuncture
  1.  Needles are smaller (finer) and sharper
  2. Insertion is less deep
  3. Touch and palpitation of the body is emphasized pre treatments
  4. Less manipulation of the needle post insertion
  5. Less manipulation of the needle post insertion
  6. Less rotating and shifting of the needle – less sensation of Qi
  7. Always burning cones of “moxa” during treatment
  8. Less emphasis on the use of herbs in treatment, although patients are often referred to herbalists if necessary
Korean Constitutional Acupuncture shares its origin with Chinese acupuncture but has developed its own unique system.
Diagnosis in Korean acupuncture is focused on a full constitutional analysis, which requires a completely separate book of prescriptions. Korean acupuncture also focuses on the extremities like the hand or ear.
Most of the standard acupuncture layouts in Korea use only four needles. In fact, Korean acupuncture is often called ‘four-needle’ technique, or Sa-am technique for this reason. The four needles are split two and two – two needles sedate or reduce excess Qi in one organ system, while two other needles balance or increase Qi in a second organ system.1

Acupuncture treats pain

Acupuncture is frequently prescribed as a modern-day, non opiate, alternative treatment for chronic pain.

Low back pain, neck and shoulder pain, and pain from osteoarthritis respond well to acupuncture treatments which are now commonly covered by extended health plans.

Acupuncture may help other conditions such as insomnia, depression, digestive issues

The World Health Organization maintains an extensive list of diseases and disorders that could be relieved with acupuncture.

When used in conjunction with other healthy lifestyle habits such as mindfullness, meditation, nutrition, and exercise, acupuncture offers beneficial support to and relief for depression, addictions, infertility, and digestive issues.

There are more than 2,000 acupuncture points that are connected by 12 meridians

The 12 meridians conduct Qi or energy between the surface of the body and its internal organs.

Qi helps to regulate balance in the body. It is influenced by the opposing forces of yin and yang, which represent positive and negative energy and forces in the universe and human body. Acupuncture keeps the balance between yin and yang, allowing for the normal flow of qi throughout the body and restoring health to the mind and bod

Acupuncture is just one aspect of a broad system of traditional Chinese medicine

Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) includes many other modalities besides acupuncture. The five most common are Moxibustion (burning an herb above the skin to apply heat to acupuncture points), Cupping, (Tui na (Chinese therapeutic massage), Chinese herbal medicine, and dietary therapy.

There are many styles and sub-styles to acupuncture including Five Element Traditional Acupuncture, TCM or Traditional Chinese Medicine Acupuncture, Japanese Acupuncture and Korean Constitutional Acupuncture.
A brief description of the five modalities follows:
  • Moxibustion: A form of heat therapy, where a bundle or stick of dried herbs (moxa) is burned near the surface of the skin. The warmth from the bundle stimulates the flow of Qi in the body.
  • Cupping: An ancient technique using a cup made of glass, plastic or rubber that, when heated, mechanically pumped or squeezed, creates suction which efficiently opens pathways for Qi (meridian energy flow). Cupping improves the circulation of blood and lymph, removes cold, heat, or dampness from the body, and relieves pain.
  • Tui na: Chinese bodywork therapy that works on the same principles as acupuncture, with the use of hands and fingers instead of needles. Through a combination of massage and acupressure, Tui Na applies pressure to acupuncture points and channels, and groups of muscles or nerves to remove blockages that prevent the free flow of Qi. It treats muscular injuries and improves blood circulation. Tui na provides pain relief and relieves stress and anxiety.
  • Herbal Therapy: TCM employs a variety of natural remedies and herbs such as plants, minerals, animal/insect parts, fungi, and other supplements.
  • Dietary Therapy: In Traditional Chinese Medicine, food is a form of therapeutic treatment classified according to its qualities and energetic effects rather than in terms of calories, proteins and fats. It is not just a matter of eating nourishing, healthy food but of eating nourishing healthy food that is right for individual body types.
Remedies in both herbal therapy and nutritional therapy are classified according to the Four Natures – hot, warm, cool, and cold, and Five Flavours, acrid, sweet, sour, salty, and bitter.
The correct balance of Natures and Flavours supports the optimal balance of yin and yang. A personalized diet based on your constitution, the nature of your condition, and even the season and climate are all taken into consideration in Chinese dietary therapy.

CHAPTER 2

9 Common Myths About Acupuncture

Although it’s used worldwide, the practice of acupuncture continues to be shrouded in mystery and myth.

Myths about acupuncture persist despite its worldwide use, history, and acceptance among academics and practitioners of mainstream medicine. Here are some of the more common misconceptions.

Acupuncture hurts

For many people, just the thought of having needles placed into their bodies is enough to send them running, but acupuncture needles and their application are designed to heal, not hurt.

People experiencing acupuncture for the first time, are surprised by how little discomfort if any, they feel. There is some sensation as muscles and nerves are stimulated, but not more than a mild initial thrum upon insertion. The needles are as fine as two human hairs, and unlike hypodermic needles, they are not hollow and they don’t cause bleeding at the insertion site.

Acupuncture is ancient folklore medicine and not legitimate

Acupuncture is definitely ancient – just look at its long history, but to say it is folklore or not legitimate is a mistake.

Practitioners of traditional Chinese medicine know that acupuncture is one of the oldest and most commonly used medical procedures in the world. And doctors practicing mainstream medicine are, increasingly, embracing acupuncture as a cost-effective stand-alone treatment or adjunct to conventional medical treatments.
A leading medically trained acupuncturist. Dr. Adrian White, who is editor in chief of the scientific journal Acupuncture in Medicine said, “The principles of acupuncture are firmly grounded in science, and you don’t need Chinese philosophy either to make it work or to practice it.”

Most people who use acupuncture are hippies or New Age healers

While it’s tempting (for some) to believe that acupuncture is a New Age or hippie approach to wellnes, nothing could be farther from the truth.

People who use and benefit from acupuncture treatments are diverse in their culture, faith, sexual orientation, education, and philosophical beliefs. Children, infants, and even animals respond well to acupuncture.

Acupuncture can conflict with medication, physical therapy or other treatment

Acupuncture works well in conjunction with many other therapies and complements Western medicine.

For example, patients undergoing radiation therapy for cancer often experience severe nausea as a side effect of the radiation. Acupuncture helps considerably with post-treatment nausea without interfering with the treatment. If physical therapy is prescribed to increase mobility, acupuncture can help to relieve the pain and tension associated with mobility issues, without interfering with the positive effects of physio.

Acupuncture is only useful for treating pain

Not true. Acupuncture is useful in the treatment of over 200 symptoms and diseases.

Acupuncture has proven to be successful in reducing stress, muscle tension, and chronic pain. Registered Acupuncturists can also treat issues such as infertility, skin problems, menstrual irregularities, digestive disorders, and more.

Acupuncture has a lot of side effects

Acupuncture has some side effects, but they are temporary and not severe. The most common side effects are actually beneficial.

The best side effects of acupuncture include improvements in your quality of sleep, reduced stress, improved digestion, mental clarity, and increased energy. Other side effects that are less common, but good to be aware of include fatigue, feeling light-headed, soreness at the insertion site, bruising, and emotional release (sensitivity and weepiness).

Relief from acupuncture treatments is psychological or just a placebo effect

Medical News Today states, “How acupuncture works scientifically remains unclear. Some people claim it works by balancing vital energy, while others believe it has a neurological effect.”

While there is no scientific proof that the meridians or acupuncture points exist it is hard to prove that they don’t. Many studies support that acupuncture works for hundreds of conditions. And acupuncture treatments work on animals, as well as on infants and children – beings not influenced by psychology or placebos.
Investigations using proper scientific controls are difficult to set up because of the invasive nature of acupuncture. In a clinical study, a control group would have to undergo a placebo treatment for results to be compared with those of genuine acupuncture. It’s just not possible to perform a placebo application of acupuncture.
Neuroscience is often used to explain acupuncture. Because acupuncture points are places where nerves, muscles, and connective tissue can be stimulated, that stimulation increases blood flow and at the same time triggers the activity of the body’s natural painkillers called endorphins. Endorphins work by binding to the opioid receptors in your brain to block the perception of pain, similar to opioid pain medications, such as oxycodone or morphine.

Once you start acupuncture you will always need it or get addicted to it

Acupuncture is a drug and chemical-free way to ease both mental and physical pain. It is not addictive.

While acupuncture is not addictive in the medical sense of the term the relief it provides can be so beneficial, you’ll want to continue. Acupuncture stimulates the brain and body’s natural “feel good” endorphins, which is healthy and good for you.

If you do not see results right away then acupuncture is not for you

Acupuncture stimulates your body’s self-healing ability so results can take time to emerge.

Most people start feeling better right away, but others take time. Acupuncture can also stimulate or worsen current symptoms and reactivate past symptoms. Each person is unique, and each body contains its unique history of ailments and abilities. Talk to your acupuncturist about any symptoms, after effects, or fears you have before deciding that the treatment is not for you.

CHAPTER 3

Acupuncture Frequently Asked Questions

With over 3500 years of use a lot of the same questions keep coming up.

While Acupuncture has been practiced for a very long time, it has only gained acceptance and popularity in Western Culture over the last 50 years. During that time people have asked the same questions to their acupuncture practitioner.

What does acupuncture actually do?

Acupuncture is the traditional Chinese medical practice of stimulating specific points on the body (along meridians) with ultra-fine needles which penetrate the skin. The procedure is applied to alleviate pain and to treat a variety of health conditions. It is believed that the needles stimulate neurohormonal pathways and increase the production of the body’s natural painkillers called endorphins.

Is acupuncture effective?

Recognized as an effective treatment for chronic pain, acupuncture has been practiced for thousands of years. A study undertaken in 2012 found that acupuncture was better than no acupuncture or simulated acupuncture for the treatment of four chronic pain conditions: chronic headache, shoulder pain, back pain, and joint pain.
In traditional Chinese medicine, it is believed that disease is caused when there is a disruption in the body’s energy flow or Qi. By applying acupuncture to specific points that correspond to organs, the flow of Qi is improved, and in turn, health is restored. Science believes that acupuncture works by stimulating the body’s natural endorphins – the “feel good” hormones.

Can acupuncture harm you?

A certified acupuncturist has the training and experience to ensure that treatments cause no harm to the patient. A dull ache, bruising, or soreness – even minor bleeding – can follow an acupuncture treatment. The use of sterile needles is important, as is an initial examination to determine if the patient is at risk because of a bleeding disorder, a pacemaker, or pregnancy.

What are the benefits of acupuncture?

Among the many benefits accorded acupuncture, are improved sleep (for those suffering from insomnia), and improved gastrointestinal health and comfort. Acupuncture is of great help to those in need of a better regulated digestive system.

Is acupuncture a placebo?

While there is no scientific proof that the meridians or acupuncture points exist it is hard to prove that they don’t. Many studies support that acupuncture works for hundreds of conditions. And acupuncture treatments work on animals, as well as on infants and children – beings not influenced by psychology or placebos.

How does an acupuncture work?

In traditional Chinese medicine, acupuncture helps to balance the body’s flow of energy, or Qi, the energy that has been disrupted by disease. Needles inserted along the body’s meridians stimulate the flow of Qi and help cure the disease. Modern science hypothesizes that acupuncture stimulates nerves along neurohormonal pathways.
Neuroscientist Dr. Nakita Burke explains acupuncture this way, ” Since the 1950s, scientific research has shown acupuncture’s effects on the peripheral nervous system, endocrine and immune systems, cardiovascular system, and digestive system. By stimulating the body’s various systems, acupuncture can help to relieve pain and promote healing. For example, endorphins, the body’s own morphine-like chemicals, are released when needles penetrate the skin. Another chemical involved in pain control, adenosine, is released in the skin during acupuncture.”2

Can you die from acupuncture?

The Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine cites some details behind acupuncture related mortality, stipulating that fatalities were anecdotally documented in rural China where treatment was administered by practitioners with less education and experience.
The Journal adds that no deaths from acupuncture were recorded in the UK where the procedure is widely practiced.
The Journal article concludes by saying, ” deaths after acupuncture may be rare, but they do occur. The best way to minimize the risk is to make sure that all acupuncturists are well-trained – not just in acupuncture technique but also in recognizing serious adverse events and initiating life-saving measures.”3

Can acupuncture be bad for you?

The risks of acupuncture are low if you have a competent, certified acupuncture practitioner using sterile needles. Common side effects include soreness and minor bleeding or bruising where the needles were inserted. Not everyone is a good candidate for acupuncture.4

Support your health and wellbeing with the benefits of acupuncture

At Moss Street Healthcare Centre, Registered Acupuncturist Dong Wei Li, R. Ac & Dr. TCM is ready to help your body and spirit achieve balance and harmony.
Call today to schedule your consultation or you can do so with our convenient online scheduling program.
Our office offers direct billing to your extended health benefits if your plan allows for it. Remember to maximize your benefits before year-end.

References

  1. https://www.nuhs.edu/news/2014/8/korean,-japanese-and-chinese-acupuncture-what%E2%80%99s-the-difference/
  2. http://whitethornwellness.com/blog/the-neuroscience-of-acupuncture-and-pain-relief-by-dr-nikita-burke
  3. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Journal_of_the_Royal_Society_of_Medicine
  4. https://www.mayoclinic.org/tests-procedures/acupuncture/about/pac-20392763
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