What is Acupuncture?
Acupuncture is a traditional form of Eastern medicine that is practiced throughout the world. Traditional acupuncture treatment consists of specific assessment of a patient’s health, followed by the insertion of very fine needles at specific points on the body depending on the patient’s needs. These specific points are called acupoints, which are sited near nerve endings and are connected to one another by lines called meridians or channels. A meridian is the course along which a similar group of acupoints are located. Points that are on the same meridian, are concerned with treating a particular organ and its associated structures as well as influencing other meridians. There are 14 main meridians. The insertion of needles at precisely defined acupoints has two principle effects. Firstly, acupuncture stimulates nerves, which transmit electrical impulses to the spinal cord, brain and the body. For example, once stimulated, some nerves will increase the movement of the intestines or digestive function, others will decrease it. The same principle holds true of the increase or decrease of the heart rate; the expansion or contraction of the blood vessels; the flow of tears; the tone of muscles; the growth rate; the production of mucus; the turgidity of the skin; the secretion of hormones etc. The most important objective for the body is to maintain itself within normal vital parameters. This is called homeostasis or balance.

 

Secondly, it has been shown that acupuncture releases chemical substances in different brain centres including the pituitary gland. These substances are known as neurotransmitters, such as, enkephalins, endorphins, serotonin, dynorphin and others. They are released and carried to local or distant areas of the body via the blood stream, and are the body’s own mechanism for communication and pain relief.
These two main effects of acupuncture, nerve stimulation/communication and chemical substance release, may be broken down into six more specific areas in which acupuncture is influential in regulating. Specific combinations of acupuncture points may produce an analgesic or pain relieving result, sedation, homeostatic (regulatory) action, immune-enhancing effect, anti-inflammatory/anti-allergic effect and/or psychological action other than sedation.

 

Acupunture is a very effective way to predictably stimulate the nervous system. When weaker aspects are detected and then stimulated, proper function is regained. Acupuncture is like going to the gym for your nervous system.


Eastern medicine explains that Qi (pronounced ‘chee‘), the energy of life, flows along the acupuncture meridians just as blood flows in the blood vessels. It is the uninterrupted flow of this energy which keeps human beings alive (and healthy). If this energy is impeded in any part of the body, disease will result. The acupuncturist aims at reestablishing the normal flow of Qi by stimulating certain strategic points. Perhaps the flow of Qi along a meridian and the flow of electrical energy along a nerve are two different ways; one ancient and one modern, of expressing the same idea.


How Does Treatment Work?

The treatment is so successful because of the nature of your nervous system. Understanding that your nervous system is ever learning and is adaptable to changes is the first step in understanding how acupuncture works. The weak links that develop will only improve if stimulated or trained. Depending on an individual’s lifestyle, different nervous system strengths and weaknesses will arise.

 

Proper assessment of an individual’s health can pinpoint the areas that need improvement. Selecting the specific acupuncture points will target the weaker areas and stimulate them to regain optimal function.

 

Our nervous system is designed to be stimulated and give a similar response in many ways. Going outside on a cold day or having someone scratch their fingernails on a chalkboard will cause shivering. Biting into a cold lemon or just thinking about it can cause the same response of salivating. This is a similar mechanism of how acupuncture can stimulate a desired response that will train the nervous system towards optimal health.


Response to Treatment

Acupuncture is not, in the average case, a one-session treatment. It is an accumulative process. The average patient with a chronic disease of several years requires about 10 to 12 weeks (the number of treatments per week may vary) of treatment to achieve the optimum amount of improvement. Mild diseases may need fewer treatments, while severe diseases might require more. Chronic health issues may require maintenance acupuncture at 6 to 8 week intervals, after a set course of treatment. ‘Incurable’ disorders may need lifelong treatment and proper management throughout.

 

Approximately three quarters of the patients who are treated notice a response at the first treatment, usually within seconds or minutes of the needles being inserted. Others will notice this initial response after several hours or even several days. At first, these changes may be difficult to notice as patients often have normal fluctuations with symptoms and their intensities.


The initial response is often heralded, either by an increase of general energy and awareness, or by a feeling of pleasant drowsy relaxation.

 

As a rule, the depressed patient feels more energetic and the over-tense patient more relaxed. Thereafter, patients may observe that some of their symptoms have disappeared and as treatment progresses, improvement will be more pronounced and of longer duration. Improvement follows an irregular course. Some treatments seem to help more than others, until finally by a cumulative effect, they achieve the optimum result.

Rarely, some patients may experience a response after treatment and temporarily feel worse. This is more likely to happen after the first treatment than subsequent ones. The response may manifest itself as an aggravation of the patient’s usual symptoms or sometimes merely as fatigue. This usually passes in a few hours. These patients often (paradoxically) have excellent results. It is important to note that this is very rare and poses no indication that treatment should be discontinued. More often, any post-treatment symptoms are the normal symptoms that patients have been experiencing for many years, but coincidentally fall on the treatment day.

 

In order to avoid the possibility of fainting during acupuncture, the patient is advised to have a regular meal prior to treatment. It is also a good practice to remove all metal jewelry during the acupuncture treatment as these metals may interfere with the body’s natural energy flow during treatment.

 

Acupuncture has a wide range of applications just as wide as that of Western medicine. A patient who combines Western medicine with acupuncture can therefore select the most appropriate treatment in any particular case. The practitioner will be able to treat a wide variety of diseases of any part or system of the body, including many psychological conditions. Purely structural damage such as a broken bone, cannot be dealt with by acupuncture alone; however, acupuncture anesthesia may be carried out to do the surgery as well as to expedite the healing of bone and any associated pain.


Acupuncture Research

More research has been conducted to illustrate the effectiveness of acupuncture than any of the drugs available on the market today. Thousands of studies support the result of acupuncture.

 

With more sensitive imaging techniques, recordings of brain reactions during acupuncture are now giving a visual understanding of the physiological changes taking place during acupuncture treatment and therefore providing a further understanding of the impact that acupuncture has on our nervous system.

 

Acupuncture Benefits for Common Health Problems

For a list of the common health problems we treat at The Ontario Migraine Clinic, visit here. This is by no means a complete list but will illustrate the effectiveness of acupuncture.


 

   

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