A well-respected and ancient form of medical treatment, acupuncture is used to treat a variety of illnesses and conditions. Acupuncturist Alf Smyth explains how this traditional Chinese treatment works
What are acupuncture pressure points?
Pressure points are locations on the body that are the focus of acupuncture. There are several hundred acupuncture points that are distributed along meridians (connected points across the body which affect a specific organ or other part of a person) as well as numerous other ‘extra points’ that are not associated with a particular meridian.
Acupuncture is a medical treatment that has been practiced for thousands of years in China and other Asian countries. It is used as a means of treating and preventing disease through the application of needles to the body.
Acupuncture is part of an integrated system of primary health care, known as Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), which has an uninterrupted history of development in China and other parts of East Asia, making it one of the oldest and most long-standing health care systems in the world.
Today, acupuncture is an effective, natural and increasingly popular form of health care that is used by people from a wide range of cultural and social backgrounds. The key is that acupuncture works for most people.
How does it work?
Acupuncture takes a holistic approach to diseases and focuses as much on the prevention of illness as on the treatment.
When healthy, an abundant supply of qi (pronounced chee) or ‘life energy’ flows through the body's meridians — a network of invisible channels through the body. If the flow of qi in the meridians becomes blocked or there is an inadequate supply of qi, then the body fails to maintain harmony, balance and order, and disease or illness is likely to follow. This can result from stress, overwork, poor diet, disease pathogens, weather and environmental conditions, plus other lifestyle factors. TCM practitioners look carefully for these signs of health and dysfunction, paying particular attention not only to the presenting signs and symptoms, but also to the patient’s medical history, general constitution, their pulse and tongue.
What does acupuncture involve?
Acupuncture treatment involves the insertion of fine, sterile needles into specific sites (acupuncture points) along the body's meridians to clear energy blockages and encourage the normal flow of qi through the individual. Acupuncture needles are so fine that there is no discomfort when they are inserted but a slight tingle (known as needle sensation) may be experienced. The needles are usually left in for approximately twenty minutes; during this time there may be a heaviness of the limbs and a feeling of relaxation. The practitioner may also stimulate the acupuncture points using other methods, such as moxibustion (a traditional Chinese medicine technique that involves the burning of mugwort, a small, spongy herb used to facilitate healing), cupping, laser therapy, electro-stimulation and massage, in order to re-establish the flow of qi.
Since Traditional Chinese Medicine promotes the body's natural healing ability, many conditions can be treated. It is also a comprehensive system of preventative health care and maintenance. The effectiveness of acupuncture and TCM is well-documented. Throughout its past history, and in present ongoing practice, TCM has established a solid reputation as a system of medical health care that actually works.
The World Health Organisation recognises Acupuncture and Traditional Chinese Medicine as a viable means of treatment for a wide range of conditions.
Acupuncture can treat many ailments including:
eg. cold, flu, viral infections
Ear, nose and throat conditions:
eg. sinusitis, hay fever, rhinitis
eg. eczema, psoriasis, acne
eg. depression, stress, insomnia, anxiety
eg. arthritis, sciatica, back pain, sports injury, neck pain, Bell’s palsy
eg. asthma, bronchitis, blood pressure, indigestion, bowel problems, diabetes, headaches/ migraine, multiple sclerosis
Genitourinary/ gynaecology conditions:
eg. infertility, impotence, premenstrual syndrome, menstrual problems, menopause, cystitis
What happens during an acupuncture session?
Attending a TCM practitioner for a course of acupuncture sessions can be somewhat different from visiting a GP. The initial consultation can last anything between 30 and 90 minutes. An examination of both the tongue and pulse is carried out, and a brief physical examination will be conducted where appropriate. The entire proceeding is safeguarded by total confidentiality. Subsequent treatment sessions will last from anything between 20 and 45 minutes. Practitioners usually see patients once a week or once a fortnight.
How many treatments are required?
Since each person is unique, the number of treatments needed will vary. The determining factors include:
- The nature of the complaint - whether it is chronic or acute.
- The general state of health and wellbeing of the patient.
- The frequency and type of TCM treatment administered may determine the likely outcome of the therapy.
- The adherence of the patient to the instructions of the TCM practitioner can also influence the speed of recovery.
- The TCM practitioner will usually discuss the treatment programme with the patient. A minimum of five sessions is needed to feel the complete benefits of acupuncture.
All acupuncture needles are single use, pre-sterilised, disposable needles. Consequently, a patient can be confident that no infection can be transmitted. The use of acupuncture and TCM in the hands of fully qualified professional practitioners, is entirely safe and free of any harmful side-effects.
Advantages of acupuncture
- Acupuncture is a drug-free way to minimise pain. In some cases, it may relieve pain when all other techniques have failed
- It is a safe form of treatment with none of the unpleasant and sometimes long-term side effects of medication. It can of course complement conventional medication, often enhancing the effects of it
- Other seemingly non-related symptoms are often improved, ie. other than those being specifically treated
- Frequently, a general sense of wellbeing is experienced by the patient and the treatment involves no pain
- The results give long lasting relief as the treatment is aimed at the basic imbalance that causes the problem, rather than purely the symptoms experienced
Aviva provides health insurance cover for acupuncture on our day-to-day plans. An acupuncturist is a person who is either on the professional register of Acupuncture and Traditional Chinese Medicine or the Association of Irish Acupuncturists and/or is accredited to the British Acupuncture Foundation and/or the Chinese Culture and Medicine, or a person holding an equivalent recognised qualification outside Ireland.
This information has been reproduced with kind permission of Zahra Publishing, publishers of Easy Health http://www.easyhealth.ie