Acupuncture as a healing tool is becoming increasingly popular for relieving pain. Although this modality began in China thousands of years ago and spread to other Asian countries, it only became popular in the West the last quarter of the 20th century. The World Health Organization (WHO) now recognizes acupuncture as an effective treatment.
Traditional Chinese Medicine is based on the philosophy of qi (pronounced chee). Qi is a life energy flowing through the body. One’s health depends on a balance of qi, carried by meridian pathways. Fourteen main meridians lead to various parts of the body, each with its own set of acupuncture points. Inserting needles at selected points and applying heat or electrical stimulation is a method of encouraging the body to promote natural healing and improve functioning.
The needles are solid, usually stainless steel and very thin because they are not hollow like hypodermic needles. Acupuncture needles are designed to slide smoothly through tissues without causing bleeding or damage to muscles. Many practitioners use disposable needles. One may feel a dull, heavy or aching feeling when the needles are inserted. After the needles are placed, heat is applied with low frequency electrical stimulation. Traditional Chinese Medicine practitioners often use moxibustion to heat the needles for greater penetration after insertion. “Moxa” is a weed grown in China, dried and used for acupuncture treatments.
After needles are inserted and heat applied, patients lie still for 15 to 30 minutes and feel relaxed and sleepy. The practitioner will rotate the needles once or twice during this time to adjust the flow of qi. For maximum benefit, several treatments are required over a period of four to six weeks.
While energy flow is the term used in Chinese medicine, modern Western medicine defines this method of healing by explaining that the needles at specific points stimulate the nervous system to release endorphins in the muscles, spinal cord and brain. Physicians trained in Western medicine offer medical acupuncture.
While students of Traditional Chinese Medicine attend classes and clinics for three years or more, medical acupuncture training demands fewer hours on the premise that physicians have already experienced instruction and practise in their field. Physicians in Canada may enroll in programs such as the Certificate Program in Medical Acupuncture (CPMA) at the University of Alberta in Edmonton. Similar programs exist in other parts of Canada, the United States and other countries. Physician acupuncturists can readily integrate acupuncture procedures into their practice.
Acupuncture is especially effective in treating pain from sports injuries. Some of the treatment techniques originated from the need to keep ancient Chinese martial arts participants in top condition. Acupuncture as a treatment for sports injuries became recognized during the 2008 Summer Games in Beijing when it was offered free to athletes in the Olympic Village. Common injuries treatable with acupuncture: shoulder rotator cuff tears and sprains, wrist or ankle sprains and tears, knee ligament and meniscus (the disc that cushions the knee) injuries, vertebral disc inflammation in the back or neck.
Injuries in these areas result in decreased circulation and stagnation of energy. Acupuncture stimulates the circulation of blood and lymph fluid, which means fresh vital nutrients are more readily available to tissues, facilitating the healing process. Enhanced circulation carries the dead cells and cellular waste products away from the injury. Relief from pain is facilitated by improved blood circulation that cleanses the muscles of lactic acid, the substance that causes the sensation of soreness and fatigue. Thus, the body enjoys natural healing without commercial painkillers and possible side-effects.
However, Dr. Tim Tanaka of the Pacific Wellness Institute in Toronto cautions against returning to exercise activity too soon after an injury. With the advice of a practitioner, practise controlled motion early to promote proper healing.
Acupuncture is not a magic overnight cure, but it can be an important tool for pain relief and enhanced well-being.
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