Styles and Approaches
Styles of acupuncture vary widely as it developed in different cultures and regions throughout Asia. There are major distinctions that encompass the approaches of differing styles
Distal vs Local
The needles are placed at a location in the body that is far from the location of the complaint. This eliminates irritation and inflammation in the affected area. It uses the body’s complex map system to communicate through the meridians, and directs the healing cascade to the region in need. When a painful area is very inflamed for example, it is important avoid irritating the tissues more by inserting a needle there.
Distal acupunctures affects are often surprisingly effective, even when local acupuncture might work. It’s a clue into the mysterious network of vessels and meridians, linking together the vast ecosystem that is our living being.
The insertion of needles into the areas of need. For an eye condition for example, small needles are inserted near the orbital ridge surrounding the eye. For back pain, needles are inserted near or into the painful muscle belly’s. With painful musculoskeletal conditions, often trigger points are being worked with. This is the same as what physical therapists refer to and practice as ‘dry needling.’ Dry needling isn’t better than acupuncture, in fact there is a 100% correlation between ‘dry needle’ locations, and acupuncture points. Physical therapists usually use acupuncture needles and stimulate local points. Local is a physical type of acupuncture that works sort of like massage, by releasing muscle constrictions at the site.
It is effective to combine local and distal acupuncture, to achieve an overall balancing effect of the body’s meridians and vessels, and the local effect of ‘hands-on.’ A type of combination treatment might look something like this: a patient presents with knee pain and insomnia, because there is a complex interaction of physical and emotional aspects local needles can be used to treat the painful points on the knee, while distal points might be chosen to send blood and important healing signals to the knee from elsewhere in the body to back up the local affects. Additionally, points will be chosen to balance emotions and calm the nervous system to treat insomnia.
What is Acupuncture and how does it work?
Acupuncture is the insertion of tiny needles into points intended to activate the body's natural healing abilities. Most patients feel little to no sensation, and the needles are solid so it feels nothing like receiving an injection or blood draw. Once the needles are in place patients often drift into deep relaxation, and a feel a lightness that lasts for hours and even days after a treatment. You will often begin to sleep better at night after beginning acupuncture treatment. Almost everyone wants to know why and how acupuncture works, and understandably so for the answers lie in a culture practically worlds apart from our own.
There is no single answer to how acupuncture works. When treating pain, acupuncture works by stimulating endorphin release and increasing the blood flow to decrease inflammation. Acupuncture helps heal because of small punctures from the needle begin a healing cascade, recruiting cells such as lymphocytes (white blood cells) to repair tissue. Scientific explanations such as those stated here are but a few of the mechanisms through which acupuncture works. From the perspective of Chinese Medicine acupuncture works by helping the body's blood and Qi flow. When Qi and blood are blocked there is pain, when there is no blockage there is no pain, as the old Chinese adage goes. It takes looking further into the history of acupuncture for a deeper understanding, and beyond that it takes a leap of faith from linear thinking and a willingness to accept the philosophies of a culture radically different from ours.
Can it treat more than just pain?
History and Philosophy
Acupuncture's notoriety has been growing in the United States since the 1970's when the Nixon administrations impressive experience with acupuncture was reported in the New York Times. While acupuncture is relatively new in Western culture, in the Asia's it is at least 2000 years old.
It is said that the earliest reference to acupuncture for therapeutic purposes in Chinese texts was 90 B.C. Today we think of acupuncture as something that comes from China but it truly originated throughout Asia. The acupuncture that is taught in schools in the U.S. today encompasses styles from China, Japan, Korea, and Vietnam. When Mao took over in the 1960's the spiritual roots of acupuncture were marginalized and the physical effects were emphasized. During the Chinese cultural revolution Acupuncture was standardized into what we today call Traditional Chinese Medicine.
Today many acupuncturists strive to re-integrate the spiritual elements into their practice by practicing and teaching meditation and emphasizing our connection with nature, keeping with Taoist principles. Taoism (pronounced Daoism) translates to mean "the way," meaning the way of nature. You don't have to be a Taoist to get acupuncture or to be an acupuncturist, the connection simply lies in the theory of living in harmony with nature. Living harmoniously with nature means more than protecting the environment from pollution, while that is important, it also refers to lifestyle choices to keep you healthy through the seasons of the year and of your life.
No matter where your from, what nationality you are or what religion you believe in you will benefit from observing the natural balance, and living in accordance with the universal laws which nature dictates.The Tai Ji symbol usually associate with Taoism, commonly known as the yin-yang, represents the complementary opposite forces of nature which compose all things. This principle of balance is a platform from which you can begin to understand for yourself the concept of how acupuncture works.
Acupuncture's growth in Western culture is due to the combination of word of mouth referrals and the extensive clinical research that has been performed on the efficacy of acupuncture. Numerous studies have been performed in the United States and Europe. We see acupuncture work in the our clinic on a regular basis, just as they did for thousands of years in China. Modern, randomized controlled research studies satisfy modern sciences ideals of finding solid proof. Often, in these studies fake or sham acupuncture will have better results than no acupuncture at all, seemingly proving that acupuncture works partially at least through the placebo effect. What sham acupuncture's effectiveness doesn't take into account are other systems of acupuncture such as Tan, Master Tung, Japanese meridian therapy, ahshi points, and many more. Studies plot TCM points against any other points that are not considered major acupuncture points. Acupuncture needles placed anywhere on the body may effect the brain and the endorphin release response.
German study showed that women using IVF in combination with acupuncture have a 42.5% success rate in becoming pregnant, where the women in the control receiving only IVF without acupuncture have only a 26.3% pregnancy rate.
A large study was performed in Germany on the effectiveness of acupuncture treatment, versus sham acupuncture, and conventional treatment for low back pain. In the group receiving real acupuncture 47% of patients improved, in the sham acupuncture group 44% improved, the group receiving conventional care 27% found relief.
The NIH (National Institute of Health) released a statement in 1997 recognizing acupuncture as an effective treatment for nausea and vomiting from chemotherapy and pregnancy, addiction recovery, rehabilitation from stroke, and fibromyalgia.
For more on acupuncture research check our blog regularly where we will cover more research topics.