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East Meets West: Alternative Medicine Such As Acupuncture And How It Works

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By Mia Bolaris-Forget

Nonconventional approaches to health and fitness are becoming increasingly more popular...but they are nothing new in many areas of the world and in many cultures. In fact, holistic healing including herbal remedies and acupuncture have been used (successfully) for centuries in the orient.

Acupuncture stems from china and has been practiced for literally thousands of years, with records of this practice being used in Europe just hundreds of years ago. Yet, it wasn't until the second half of the twentieth century that the western world began to catch on.

Acupuncture is very simply the insertion of tiny, thin needles into specific points in the patient's skin at various trigger points and meridians to help alleviate the ailment, illness, etc.

According to traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) acupuncture points are found along meridians through which gi vital energy runs. However, there is little to no histological, anatomical, or scientific proof that these "pressure points" exist, making this type of treatment questionable and often controversial.

Still, according to the World Health Organization (WHO) acupuncture is proven effective for treating 28 conditions, and there is also evidence that points to acupuncture being an effective therapy for many more. People who may benefit are those with tension headaches and/or migraines, those with debilitating symptoms of xerostoma (severe dry mouth), as well as those treated with radiation for head and neck cancer.

Acupuncture typically involves several weekly or monthly treatments, with most courses consisting of up to 12 sessions. The patient is evaluated by the acupuncturist and this evaluation is followed by an insertion of needles along specific bodily regions and points along with self-care advice.....with most sessions lasting about 30 minutes.

The patient is treated either sitting or lying down, depending on where the needles are inserted. The acupuncturist/specialist should use single-use disposable sterile needles. As each needle is placed, the patient should feel them but without pain, although when inserted to the proper depth there should be a "dull", deep aching sensation. Sometimes needles will be heated or stimulated with electricity after insertion....and once inserted will be left in place for about twenty minutes.

According to Traditional Chinese Medicine, overall health is the byproduct of a harmonious balance of the complementary extremes of yin and yan of the life force commonly referred to as gi or chi. Gi is sail to flow through the pathways (or meridians) of the human body that contains 350 acupuncture points through which this energy flow, can get blocked, and can be accessed. Therefore, according to TCM illness is a byproduct of a flow imbalance and needles inserted into the proper points and in the right combinations can help get the flow back to normal.

In our society and culture, acupuncture is explained using concepts of neuroscience, and is understood as places in the body where nerves, muscles, and connective tissue can be stimulated. This stimulation is understood to increase blood flow while at the same time triggering the activity of our body's own healing powers and natural painkillers.

Currently acupuncture is more commonly used for some conditions more than others. However it is increasingly gaining in popularity, especially to help alleviate pain and nausea after surgery. Even the US Air Force implemented "Battlefield Acupuncture" by teaching physicians it principles before deploying them to Iraq and Afghanistan back in early 2009. In fact, according to studies, using acupunctures during surgery substantially lowers the level of pain felt and the need for potent painkillers after surgery.

In addition, acupuncture is also becoming popular in veterinary medicine.

And, this increase in acceptance and popularity is "forcing" physicians to look at what other ailments and illnesses can benefit from this ancient practice. A recent study found that acupuncture may help with indigestion especially symptoms experienced by pregnant women.

However, some other studies suggest that there are some conditions for which acupuncture has little or no effect such as hot flashes during menopause. However, it can be effective for hot flashes for women who are being treated with the anti-estrogen tamoxifen following surgery for breast cancer.

And, while it is difficult to conduct clinical studies to "prove" the benefits and effectiveness of acupuncture, some studies suggest that it may help in treating low back pain, fibromyalgia, migraines, post-operative dental pain, hypertension, osteoarthritis, painful periods, and chemotherapy-induced nausea and vomiting.

In addition, other studies suggest that exercise and electro-acupuncture treatments can reduce sympathetic nerve activity in women with polycystic ovarian syndrome.

But like everything...there are both benefits and risks...here are a list of both.

The benefits of acupuncture are:
• When performed correctly it is safe
• There are very few side effects
• It is a very effective combination treatment
• It is effective in controlling some types of pain
• It may be considered for patients who do not respond to pain medications
• It is a useful alternative for patients who do not want to take pain medications

The risks of acupuncture are:
• It is dangerous if the patient has a bleeding disorder
• It the dangerous if the patient is taking blood thinners
• There may be bleeding, bruising and soreness at the insertion sites
• The needle may break and damage an internal organ (very rare)
• Unsterilized needles may infect the patient
• When inserted deeply into the chest or upper back there is a risk of collapsed lung (very rare)

Long Island Health, Fitness & Beauty Articles > East Meets West: Alternative Medicine Such As Acupuncture And How It Works

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