What is Acupuncture?

Acupuncture is a safe and effective natural therapy that is used to heal illness, prevent disease and improve well-being. Tiny, hair-thin needles are inserted into specific points in the body, where they are gently stimulated to trigger the body’s natural healing response. Acupuncture is effective for controlling pain and can regulate the body’s physiological functions to treat various internal dysfunction and disorders.

According to traditional acupuncture theory, there are twelve energy channels called “meridians” running vertically along the length of the human body, each one linking to a specific organ. Illness is caused by obstructed energy flow at certain points along the meridians. Acupuncture therapy stimulates meridian flow and harmonizes the body’s energy to influence the health of both body and mind.

Researchers have begun to examine in Western medical terms the mechanisms by which acupuncture brings about physiological change. Studies have shown that acupuncture influences both the central and peripheral nervous systems. Further evidence indicates that acupuncture stimulates the release of brain chemicals such as endorphins, which function to relieve pain. Research also suggests that acupuncture increases immune system functioning, improves the circulatory system, decreases muscle tightness, and increases joint flexibility. Clinical trials lend credence to these results: acupuncture has been shown to bring about significant improvement for a variety of diseases.

In countries such as Japan and China, which make up about a fifth of the world’s population, acupuncture has been established as a primary form of health care for thousands of years, where the acupuncturist’s role was comparable to that of the physician. Today in such countries, acupuncture treatment remains an integral component of the health care system, offered in conjunction with Western medicine. In North America, acupuncture has drawn growing public attention in recent years. The flood of headlines in the mass media describe this expanding interest and acceptance: The Washington Post, for example, reported in 1994 that an estimated 15 million Americans, or about 6 percent of the population, have tried acupuncture for various ailments that include chronic pain, fatigue, nausea, arthritis, and digestive problems.

In 1995, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) reclassified acupuncture needles from the Class III (investigational device) category to the Class II (safe and effective but requiring restrictions) category. In November 1997, the US National Institute of Health held a major conference to discuss the use, efficacy, and safety of acupuncture. Based on their conclusions, the NIH issued a report entitled “Acupuncture: The NIH stated that acupuncture is a useful method for the treatment of a variety of conditions such as post-operative pain, nausea, migraines, arthritis, menstrual cramps, low back pain, and tennis elbow. Furthermore, the NIH acknowledged that the side-effects of acupuncture are considerably less compared with other medical procedures such as drugs and surgery. In addition, the NIH made a recommendation to US insurance companies to provide coverage of acupuncture treatments for certain conditions.

This expanding paradigm is changing the face of medicine as we know it. Acupuncture has already been accepted as one of the more common forms of pain management therapy in many pain clinics in US and Canadian hospitals. As a result, acupuncture is becoming accessible for more and more Canadians. Doctors are recommending acupuncture for their patients for various conditions and insurance plans are beginning to include acupuncture treatments.

How It Works?

The Traditional Eastern theory

Acupuncture was developed on the understanding that there are twelve main channels, or “regular meridians” running vertically across and throughout the human body connecting the internal organs. It is a tenet of acupuncture that Qi flows along these meridian lines. Qi is somewhat equivalent to the western idea of vitality or life-force.

The operating philosophy of traditional acupuncture is that disease is caused by interrupted energy flow at specific points on the body’s surface. Acupuncture thus involves the insertion of a needle(s) at the affected point(s) in order to stimulate Qi flow and harmonize energy flow in the body.

The Scientific Explanation:

How does traditional acupuncture translate into our modern medical understanding? Researchers are examining through Western mechanisms how acupuncture brings about physiological change.

Scientific research into acupuncture in the last 25 years has brought a general advance in the understanding of neurophysiologic & neuropharmacologic pain relief mechanisms as they relate to acupuncture (the endorphin theory, the gate theory, and DNIC (diffuse noxious inhibitory control theory). Evidence indicates that acupuncture stimulates the release of brain chemicals such as endorphins that function to relieve pain. Research shows that acupuncture strengthens the immune system, improves circulation, decreases muscle tightness, and increases joint flexibility.

Most studies on acupuncture have focused on a strong, deep needling-technique to produce neurophysiologic and/or neuropharmacologic responses. In the traditional Chinese method, it is the inducement of de-qi sensation that is emphasized to achieve positive results. Melzack and Wall, co-authors of ‘The Challenge of Pain’, even suggest that, based on their studies, the importance of intense acupuncture stimulation to induce analgesia should not be underestimated. Many Japanese practitioners use very fine needles and utilize a gentle, shallow needling technique, which has been clinically demonstrated to produce positive results.

Until recently, few studies had investigated the physiological effects of this superficial stimulation technique. A series of experiments carried out by Prof. Kazushi Nishijo’s group at the Tsukuba College of Technology in Japan clearly indicate the marked response in autonomic function following specific superficial needling. Their experiments indicated that superficial needling during exhalation in a sitting position induces a consistent parasympathetic response. The action of acupuncture synchronized with the patient’s physiological state produces a greater response in parasympathetic activity. Dr. Tanaka’s experiment of 1994-96 clearly indicates the significance of superficial needling in EMG activity (Dr. Tanaka is the Director of the Pacific Wellness Institute in Toronto).

The study also provides a partial explanation of pain relief and the mechanism of action behind superficial needling. It is also important to note that a reduction in EMG activity greatly varies according to whether or not the stimulation is applied during the exhalation phase in the patient’s breathing cycle or during continuous breathing.

Medical Condition We Can Treat

Acupuncture has been effectively used for the treatment of back pain, headache, migraine, and sports injuries. However, acupuncture provides more than pain relief. It is helpful in treating anxiety, insomnia, digestive problems, menstrual problems, weight control, infertility and much, much more.

Although acupuncture has become widely accepted and available in North America in the last 10 years, it had already been endorsed a century earlier by the renowned Canadian physician, Sir William Osler , widely referred to as the “Father of Modern Medicine”:

Conditions Commonly Treated with Acupuncture:



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