Q + A
What is Acupuncture?Acupuncture is the 2,000 year old therapy of inserting fine, sterile needles into specific points in the body to stimulate, strengthen, relieve symptoms of disease and pain.
Acupuncture aims to treat not only the symptoms of pain, disease or illness but also the cause. For this reason, Acupuncture can decrease and even prevent reoccurrence of chronic pain and illnesses. When receiving an Acupuncture treatment you may notice that your Acupuncturist is inserting needles, or pins as I like to call them, into areas that are not only at your site of pain. This is generally because your practitioner has established the cause of your discomfort and are taking steps to rebalance your body so you can recover faster and possibly prevent another reoccurrence. Just one of the many reasons why Acupuncture is fabulous!
How does it work?This question could be answered from two approaches, firstly from a Chinese Medicine perspective and secondly from a western biomedical perspective.
From a Chinese Medicine perspective, Acupuncture works by stimulating and regulating the flow of 'Qi' or energy in the body to re-establish homeostatic balance. Qi flows through organs and along specific pathways or 'meridians' and a blockage in these pathways causes an accumulation or stagnation subsequently causing pain or disease. Specific Acupuncture points are selected based on the patients unique signs and symptoms and additional techniques may be applied such as moxibustion, cupping or electro-acupuncture to aid this process of healing.
From a western biomedical perspective, it is still unclear as to the specific mechanisms behind how Acupuncture works. However, research suggests that Acupuncture has an analgesic and anti-inflammatory effect by stimulating blood flow to target areas. Acupuncture reduces both the intensity and perception of chronic pain. It does this through a process called "descending control normalization", which involves the serotonergic nervous system. Acupuncture relaxes shortened, tight muscles which in turn releases pressure on joint structures and nerves and promotes blood circulation. Acupuncture also reduces stress. Recent research by Shaozong, suggests that Acupuncture stimulates the release of oxytocin, a hormone and signaling substance that regulates the parasympathetic nervous system. You’ve probably heard of the “fight-or-flight” response that is governed by the sympathetic nervous system. The parasympathetic nervous system has been called the “rest-and-digest” or “calm-and-connect” system, and in many ways is the opposite of the sympathetic system. Recent research has implicated impaired parasympathetic function in a wide range of autoimmune diseases, including arthritis, lupus, rheumatoid arthritis and inflammatory bowel disease.
In summary, regardless of the perspective you approach Acupuncture with, the modality works via a fusion of art and science.
RMIT University academic Dr Zhen Zheng explains how acupuncture works.
Does it hurt?No. Acupuncture needles are extremely small and should not cause pain. This doesn't mean you wont feel anything; most commonly you will experience a dull, heavy sensation or a traveling sensation up or down from the needle insertion site. Sometimes this sensation will last for 30 minutes after treatment although it will generally dissipate 10 minutes after insertion. Acupuncture is very relaxing and stress relieving.
But I'm scared of needles!That's ok. I'm scared of inferior espresso, everyone is afraid of something. I have found that this fear of needles diminishes significantly following a patients initial treatment. The needles we use are significantly smaller than the hypodermic, hollow needles used for injections. Acupuncture needles are so fine that they are flexible and pain free. Most patients find them so relaxing that they fall asleep after 5 minutes of treatment.
Is it safe?Most definitely. A multitude of randomised clinical trials have been conducted not only investigating the efficacy of treating specific illnesses with Acupuncture but also assessing its safety. Results of these studies have consistently shown that Acupuncture is exceptionally safe particularly when compared to other modalities. Some adverse events may occur but are very rare.
Acupuncturists insert sterile, single use needles that are disposed of immediately after removal.
To become a registered Acupuncturist, a practitioner must have a university level Bachelor Degree in Acupuncture completed over four-years of full-time study. Acupuncture is regulated by AHPRA, the same body that governs Medical Doctors, Nurses and Chiropractors.
What can Acupuncture treat?The benefits of Acupuncture are extensive and it is known to effectively treat a wide variety of conditions. In 2002, our main man for health and disease, The World Health organisation (WHO) released a document stating the conditions that Acupuncture could treat supported by evidence based medicine and clinical trials. This document can be found here. It lists a wide range of diseases including;
:: Musculoskeletal disorders such as osteoarthritis, sciatica, lumbago, weak back, low back pain, rheumatoid arthritis, gout, tenosynovitis, shoulder and neck pain, cervicobrachial syndrome, 'frozen shoulder', and 'tennis elbow'.
:: Sporting injuries such as sprained ankles and knees, cartilage problems, corking and tearing of muscles, torn ligaments and bruises.
:: Psychological conditions such as depression, phobias, emotional disturbances, anxiety, nervousness and addictions such as smoking.
:: Digestive system disorders such as toothache, post-extraction pain, gingivitis, mouth ulcers, hiccough, spasms of the oesophagus, gastric and duodenal ulcers, gastric hyperacidity, gastritis, heartburn, hiatus hernia syndrome, flatulence, paralytic ileus, colitis, diarrhoea, constipation, haemorrhoids, liver and gall bladder disorders, and weight control.
:: Neurological conditions such as headaches, migraines, difficulty sleeping, nervous tension, stroke, some forms of deafness, facial and inter-costal neuralgia, trigeminal neuralgia, some forms of paralysis, sequelae of poliomyelitis, peripheral neuropathy, noises in the ears, dizziness, and Meniere's disease.
:: Gynaecological and obstetric disorders such as premenstrual tension, painful, heavy or irregular, or the absence of periods, abnormal uterine bleeding or discharge, hormonal disturbances, disorders associated with menopause, prolapse of the uterus or bladder, difficulty with conception, and morning sickness.
:: Cardiovascular disorders such as high or low blood pressure, fluid retention, chest pain, angina pectoris, poor circulation, cold hands and feet, and muscle cramps.
:: Respiratory conditions such as bronchial asthma, acute and chronic bronchitis, acute tonsillitis, rhinitis, sinusitis, hay fever, chronic cough, laryngitis, sore throat, influenza and the common cold.
:: Urogenital disorders such as cystitis, prostatitis, orchitis, low sexual vitality, urinary retention, kidney disorders, nocturnal enuresis, and neurogenic bladder dysfunction.
:: Skin conditions such as eczema, dermatitis, psoriasis, nerve rash, herpes zoster, acne, scar tissue and resultant adhesions, hair loss and dandruff.
:: Eye conditions such as visual disorders, red, sore, itchy or watery eyes, conjunctivitis, simple cataracts, myopia in children, and central retinitis.
* The disorders above which appear in bold have been recognised by the World Health Organisation (December 1979) as having been successfully treated by acupuncture. The disorders which do not appear in bold above are other common disorders which have been found to respond well to acupuncture.
Are you a hippy?No, I am not a 'hippy'. Yes, I am experienced in yoga and eat fermented foods but I am more importantly an allied health professional who believes in the integration of western and eastern medicine to achieve the best possible health outcomes for my patients.
ResourcesShaozong, C. Modern acupuncture theory and its clinical application. (Chapter 5 The Morphologic Relationship between Points and Nerves). International Journal of Clinical Acupuncture. 2001;121(2):149-158
Dung HC. Anatomical features contributing to the formation of acupuncture points. American Journal of Acupuncture. 1984;12:139-143