Acupuncture hits the spot

Created date

August 25th, 2009
Acupuncture And Health
Acupuncture And Health
"Acupuncture is very much an art," says Mark Samuelson, M.D. "Anyone can stick a needle in, but it s an art to figure out what s going on with a patient and how to place those needles."

While the technique may be an art, the practice of acupuncture has been scientifically proven to improve various health conditions. It can relieve osteoarthritis, lower back pain, headaches, fibromyalgia, nausea after chemotherapy, and postoperative dental pain, according to recent research. Acupuncture even outperformed sleeping pills in treating people for insomnia.

The answer to health mysteries

"Acupuncture helps with things that Western medicine can t do much with, like irritable bowel syndrome, fibromyalgia, chronic pain syndrome, or lack of energy," says Samuelson. "For example, a 76 year old comes to me and says, I just don t have that much energy. We do a blood test. We might do a chest X-ray. Everything looks normal. They sleep well, and we ve ruled out depression. We don t have a good explanation or treatment for their lack of energy, but an acupuncturist would. They might say that the person s kidney chi [energy] is deficient. As you get older, the power of the kidney but not the kidney as we think of the kidney is less. The acupuncturist would improve upon that."

In addition to lack of energy, problems with digestion can lead people to the acupuncturist s table.

"We don t have much [in Western medicine] for gas and bloating. We sell over-the-counter stuff, but it doesn t really work," says Samuelson. "Acupuncturists would look at it differently the stomach fire is low and needs a little fuel, so they twist the needle and get things going."

The way it works

In Chinese medicine, the body is seen as a system of 12 meridians, or "channels of energy." If one of these channels gets blocked, the buildup can cause pain.

Through various combinations of needles inserted into any of 350 access points to the meridians, practitioners can release the energy and restore the body to its natural state of balance. Usually needles are inserted for 5 to 20 minutes.

Techniques behind placing the needles vary based on training and culture. For instance, in Chinese acupuncture, the patient can feel a little jab when the needle is inserted; in other types of acupuncture, that isn t the case. Some people report minor pain during and after treatment; others don t feel anything.

"When you use the word acupuncture, it means different things to different people," explains Samuelson.

Seeing things differently

Regardless of what type of acupuncture is practiced, the common thread among acupuncturists is the way they view the body.

"If you walk into an acupuncturist s office, they re going to listen to the complaint and look at your body, but not the way a Western doctor would," explains Samuelson. "The knee could relate to something in the face. It s almost contrary to what Western medicine is. Western medicine is about cause and effect. With acupuncture, all bets are off unless you understand all these intricacies of connection."

And along the lines of staying connected, he adds, "It s nice for people who are participating in any alternative medicine to inform their primary care physician so we can work with them and learn about their experience."