The basis of acupuncture is an energy force known as qi (roughly pronounced “chee”). A person’s health is influenced by the flow of this energy, or qi, in the body. If the flow of qi is insufficient, unbalanced or interrupted, illness may occur. Qi travels throughout the body along pathways called “channels.” The acupuncture points are specific locations where the channels are accessible and where qi is easily directed by the placement of needles, moxibustion or acupressure. Acupuncture is used to balance the opposing forces of yin and yang, keep the normal flow of qi unblocked, and maintain or restore health to the body and mind.

While acupuncture may be most popular for its effectiveness in alleviating pain, it also helps treat allergies/asthma, fatigue and sleep disorders, arthritis, PMS, digestive disorders, addictions and much more.

There have been several proposed scientific explanations for acupuncture’s effects, primarily in regards to its effect on pain. Acupuncture points are believed to stimulate the central nervous system (the brain and spinal cord) to release chemicals into the muscles, spinal cord and brain. These chemicals either change the experience of pain or release other chemicals, such as hormones, that influence the body’s self-regulating systems. The biochemical changes may stimulate the body’s natural healing abilities and promote physical and emotional well-being.

Western science posits that there are three main mechanisms for acupuncture’s effects:

1. Activation of opioid systems: Research has found that several types of opioids may be released into the central nervous system during acupuncture treatment, thereby reducing pain.

2. Changes in brain chemistry, sensation, and involuntary body functions: Studies have shown that acupuncture may alter brain chemistry by changing the release of neurotransmitters and neurohormones. Acupuncture also has been documented to affect the parts of the central nervous system related to sensation and involuntary body functions, such as immune reactions and processes whereby a person’s blood pressure, blood flow and body temperature are regulated.

3. Changes in blood flow: Acupuncture and Oriental medicine alters the circulation of blood to the affected area, resulting in removal of pain causing chemicals, and restoring normal function to the area being treated.

Acupuncture treatments may consist of any of several Oriental medicine methods. Some of them include:

Moxibustion

Moxibustion is a method of treatment involving the therapeutic application of heat from a burning herb. The herb most commonly used in moxibustion is mugwort (Ai Ye or Moxa, a species of Artemesia). Moxibustion is often used simultaneously with acupuncture to enhance the work of the needles. Moxibustion can be performed in several different ways. One method involves dried mugwort processed into the form of a stick similar to a cigar. This stick is held near acupuncture points to warm them. The moxa may also be burned directly on the body, usually with a medium of salt, ginger, etc. placed between it and the skin. Moxa may also be placed above the skin on the handle of the needle to heat the needle shaft.

Cupping (from acupuncture.com)

Cupping is a modality that uses a partial vacuum in a specifically designed glass cup. When applied to the surface of the skin the underlying soft tissue is drawn into the cup. The cups may be moved to provide a form of massage. Cupping is unique in its ability to provide a negative pressure to the soft tissue.

Electroacupuncture

Electroacupuncture is an acupuncture technique that, in comparison to acupuncture, has only recently come into use. What’s the difference between electroacupuncture and traditional acupuncture? Electroacupuncture is quite similar to traditional acupuncture in that the same points are stimulated during treatment. As with traditional acupuncture, needles are inserted on specific points along the body. The needles are then attached to a device that generates continuous electric pulses using small clips. These devices are used to adjust the frequency and intensity of the impulse being delivered, depending on the condition being treated. Electroacupuncture uses two needles at a time so that the impulses can pass from one needle to the other. Several pairs of needles can be stimulated simultaneously, usually for no more than 30 minutes at a time.

Tui Na

Tui na is an Oriental bodywork therapy that has been used in China for 2,000 years. Tui na uses the traditional Chinese medical theory of the flow of qi through the meridians as its basic therapeutic orientation. Through the application of massage and manipulation techniques Tui na seeks to establish a more harmonious flow of qi through the system of channels and collaterals, allowing the body to naturally heal itself. Tui na methods include the use of hand techniques to massage the soft tissue (muscles and tendons) of the body and acupressure techniques to directly affect the flow of qi. External herbal poultices, compresses, liniments and salves may also be used to enhance the other therapeutic methods.

Qi Gong

Qi gong is an ancient form of exercise developed in China over several centuries. Qi gong involves specific breathing practices, precise body movements, meditation and visualization. The practice of qi gong is meant to harmonize the flow of qi in the meridians and organs, producing a healthy body and a calm mind. During a treatment, the clinician may teach various qi gong exercises which the patient can practice at home. The clinician may also use “external qi gong” methods during the treatment. This involves the clinician practicing various forms of qi gong for the benefit of the patient.

Dietary therapy

Dietary therapy is an integral part of traditional Chinese medicine. Traditional Chinese paradigms of nutrition divide foods into different categories based upon their tastes and temperatures. A healthy diet depends upon the balance of cool-cold foods and warm-hot foods, as well as a balance of the five flavors (sweet, sour, acrid, bitter and salty). Foods should also be selected based upon harmony with the seasons and climate. During an acupuncture visit, clinicians may give you general dietary advice or they may discuss with you specific foods to treat your health concerns. The clinicians may also ask you to keep a record of what you eat, a “diet diary,” to examine your eating habits and make suggestions for healthy changes.

Taken directly from The Bastyr Center for Natural Health website: www.bastyrcenter.com