All About Acupuncture

by Dr. Anton Jayasuriya

Chairman, Medicina Alternativa, 28 International Buddhist Centre Road, Colombo 6,

Sri Lanka.


History and Philosophy : Acupuncture is a traditional form of oriental medicine that has its roots in prehistoric times. Today, even though western methods are also used, acupuncture is still taught to all medical students in China. It is practised in Europe, North America and other parts of the world too. In Sri Lanka about 95% of the medical students have learnt acupuncture.


Traditional acupuncture treatment consists of inserting a very fine needle at specific points on the skin. These points sited near nerve endings, and connected to one another by lines called channels or meridians. A channel is the course along which are located a group of acupuncture points concerned with treating a particular organ of the body, or its associated structures.


The insertion of the needle at a precisely defined point on the skin has two effects; first, it stimulates specific nerves which transmit electrical impulses via the spinal cord, and the brain, to the diseased area. Nerves control most processes in the body.


When stimulated some nerves will, for example, increase the movement of the intestines; others will retard it. Some will increase, others decrease, the flow of the digestive juices. The same principle holds true of the increase or decrease of the heart rate; the expansion or contraction of the blood vessels; the flow of tears; the tone of the muscles; the growth rate; the production of mucus; the turgidity of the skin; the secretion of hormones; etc. The nervous system may be compared to an electronic control apparatus of some highly complex machine, such as, a modern computer or an automatic pilot. The most important thing is that the body tries to maintain itself within the normal vital parameters. This is called homeostasis.


Secondly, it has been shown that it stimulates the release of chemical substances from the brain centers and pituitary gland. These substances are known as enkephalins, endorphins, serotonin, dynorphin and others. They are released and carried in the bloodstream, and are the body's own mechanism for pain relief.


Ancient physicians explained acupuncture on the philosophy of Taoism and the Five-Element-Theory of Fire, Earth, Metal, Water and Wood. In Sri Lanka, acupuncture and moxibustion have been practised for at least 3000 years. Moxibustion involves heating certain points with the dried leaves of the moxa plant (mugwort).


The ancient Chinese believed that Qi (pronounced "chee"), the energy of life, flowed along the acupuncture channels just as blood flows along the blood vessels, and it is the uninterrupted flow of this energy which keeps human beings alive (and healthy). If it is impeded in any part of the body, the result will be dis-ease. The acupuncturist aims at re-establishing the normal flow of Qi by stimulating certain strategic points. Perhaps the flow of Qi along a channel, and the flow of electrical energy along a nerve, are two different ways; one ancient and one modern, expressing the same idea.


The most characteristic method of diagnosis used in acupuncture is Chinese pulse diagnosis. The radial artery is felt at both wrists in order to determine the variation in elasticity of the arterial wall in twelve different segments. These twelve segments correspond, in the context of acupuncture, to the twelve most important organs of the body, which in their turn control all bodily functions. For example, one of these twelve organs is the liver, whose dysfunction may be the cause of an obvious liver disorder like jaundice, but also of several less obvious disorders, such as, certain types of migraine, asthma, hay fever, depression and constipation.


Duration and Response to Treatment : Acupuncture does not guarantee an instant cure. The average patient with a chronic disease of several years duration requires about 10 to 12 treatments to achieve the optimum amount of relief possible. Mild diseases need fewer treatments, (while severe diseases require more.) Chronic disease may need spaced, maintenance acupuncture at 6 to 8 week intervals, after a set course of treatment. "Incurable disorders" may need life-long treatment and proper management throughout.


To receive the best possible result from therapy it is necessary to be mentally and physically relaxed before treatment is commenced. Likewise, after a session of acupuncture, it is strongly advised that the patient relaxes for at least half hour, to derive the best possible result. These are very important aspects of the treatment.


Approximately three-quarters of the patients who are successfully treated notice a response at the first treatment; usually within seconds or minutes of the needles being inserted. Others will notice this initial response only after several hours or even several days.


The initial response is often heralded, either by an increase of general energy and awareness, or by a feeling of pleasant, drowsy relaxation. As a rule the depressed patient feels more energetic, and the over-tense patient more relaxed. Thereafter, the patient may observe that some of his symptoms have disappeared,but this may not last. It may wear off after some hours or days, and the treatment then will have to be repeated, but with every repetition the improvement will be more pronounced and of longer duration. Improvement follows an irregular course, some treatment helps more than others, some not at all, until finally, by a cumulative effect, they achieve the optimum result. In treating the more severe and chronic diseases, it often appears that a patient who has been cured of his illness will notice, after some time, a recurrence of symptoms. In most cases this can be successfully dealt with one or more further treatments. With the more intractable diseases, there may be several such recurrences, each as a rule, milder than the last, and separated from it by a longer interval.


Reactions and Complications : Rarely, some patients experience a reaction after treatment and feel temporarily worse. This is more likely to happen after the first treatment, than with subsequent ones. The reaction may manifest itself as an aggravation of the patient's usual symptoms or sometimes merely as fatigue. This usually passes off in a few hours. These patients usually (paradoxically) have the best results.


In former times, people accepted reactions as part of the healing process. In fact, it was considered a good sign, as the aim of medicine then, was to increase the body's strength and resistance, (a reaction similar to a vaccination). However, this is rarely the case in modern western thinking, so that the uninitiated person might be a little alarmed on the rare occasion of a reaction. In acupuncture, one tries to strengthen the diseased part of the body. One tries to make the lazy parts work again. This might be compared to someone digging a garden or riding a horse after a long period of inactivity. The lazy muscles ache after such exercise, just as the lazy organs of the body might revolt at the acupuncture treatment.


Reactions are rare, but with subsequent treatments they can be virtually avoided by individualised acupuncture therapy. In order to avoid fainting during acupuncture the patient is advised to have a regular meal. Acupuncture is not recommended on an empty stomach. It is also a good practice to remove all metal jewellery during the acupuncture treatment and also to earth the patient by removing the footwear and socks. This is done on the belief that acupuncture effects are related to the bio-energies of the body. Pain, bleeding and fainting are common complications of acupuncture.


Methods of Treatment : There are many different acupuncture methods, such as, needling, lasertherapy, moxibustion, electrotherapy and so on. Homeopuncture is a unique combination of acupuncture and homeopathy using medicated needles.


Scope of Acupunture : Acupuncture is a complete system of medicine, with a range of applications just as wide as that of western medicine. A doctor who combines western medicine with acupuncture can therefore select the most appropriate treatment in any particular case. He will be able to treat a wide variety of diseases of any part or system of the body, including many psychological conditions, in the best way possible. Purely structural damage, such as, a broken bone, cannot be dealt with by acupuncture, except for the relief of pain. However, acupuncture anaesthesia may be carried out to do the surgery, as well as to expedite the healing of bone. Acupuncture is also useful to treat non-union or delayed union of fractures (acceleration of the healing process).


Here is a list of common disorders which are frequently treated with acupuncture.


Head : Neuralgias, headaches, migraine, epilepsy, tics, spasms, cerebral arteriosclerosis causing senility (during early stage). Alzheimer's disease.


Limbs and Musculature : Fibrositis, muscular rheumatism, sciatica, lumbago, cramps, intermittent claudication, cold hands and feet (Raynaud's) oedema, writer's cramp, some types of trembling, tennis elbow, rheumatoid and osteoarthritis, weakness or feeling of excessive heaviness of limbs, frozen shoulder, gout, strokes and other muscular paralysis.


Digestion : Duodenal and stomach ulcers, hyperacidity, gastritis, dyspepsia, indigestion, lack of appetite, excessive appetite, obesity, bulimia, eructations, wind, abdominal distention, halitosis, dry mouth, heartburn, pyloric spasm, nausea, vomiting, rectal prolapse, constipation, diarrhoea, various types of colic, perianal pain or itch, hypo-function of the liver, tender liver, early haemorrhoids, hepatitis, chronic cholecystitis, colitis, ulcerative colitis, pancreatitis, nausea and vomiting of pregnancy, vomiting in children and infants.


Respiratory System : Asthma, bronchitis, tracheitis, shortness of breath, pulmonary congestion, recurrent colds, coughs, mild pulmonary infections and tuberculosis.


Cardio-Vascular System : Ischaemic heart disease, rhythm disorders, angina pectoris, chest pain, fainting, palpitations, tachycardia, high/low blood pressure, arterial spasm, phlebitis, early pregnancy haemorrhoids, lymphangitis, adenitis, pallor, poor circulation.


Genito-Urinary and Gynaecological Disorders : Pelvic pain, painful and irregular periods, flooding, vaginal pain, hot flushes, itching, menopausal disorders, ovarian pain, mastitis, pyelitis, cystitis, some types of renal colic, lumbago, bladder irritation and spasm, lack of bladder control, early prostatic troubles, bed-wetting, painless childbirth, Caesarean section, forceps delivery. Acupuncture is very effective in relieving the pain of childbirth.


Sexual Disorders : Impotence, premature ejaculation, lack of sexual desire, nymphomania, certain types of sterility, some types of orgasmic dysfunctions and frigidity.


Eyes : Weak eyesight, early cataract, retinitis, eyes tired after reading a book for a short time, pain behind or around the eye, conjunctivitis, blepharitis, disorders of the eye muscles.


Ear, Nose and Throat : Hay fever, rhinitis, nose bleeding, sneezing, diminished sense of smell (some types), sinusitis, catarrh, tonsilitis, laryngitis, aphasia due to stroke, enlarged goitre, thyroid dysfunctions.


Skin and Nails, Cosmetic Therapy : Acne, alopecia, itching, eczemas, urticaria, psoriasis, herpes, neurodermatitis, paronychia and many other skin conditions, leucoderma, hyperpigmentation, skin allergies.


Nervous System/Psychiatric and Stress Related Disorders : Anxiety states, depression, nervousness, phobias, obsessions, timidity, neurasthenia, agitation, outbursts of temper, yawning, excessive loquacity, insomnia, nocturnal terror, facial palsy, neuralgia after shingles, epilepsy, trembling, schizophrenia, endogenous depression.


Obesity : Control of appetite in conjunction with diet. Substance Abuse : May help patients to stop smoking or drug taking with minimal withdrawal symptoms. About 75% of cases of addictions may be cured.


Children : Bed-wetting, fear of the dark, bad-tempered and frightened states, inability to learn properly at school, under-development, stunted growth (sometimes), cyclic vomiting and acidosis in infants, most of the common diseases of children, including the infectious diseases. (Acupuncture raises immunity). Cerebral palsy.


General Health : General fatigue, lassitude, excessive perspiration, excessive sleep, excessive yawning, sensitivity to change in temperature, travel sickness, post operative weakness, listlessness after severe diseases, insomnia. Most patients who have been treated by acupuncture notice a considerable improvement in their general health.


Acupuncture is usually carried out after a proper medical examination and diagnosis. For this reason acupuncture should be practised only by a fully qualified person with a firm knowledge of physiology, pathology, traditional medicine, etc. In addition to a specialist training in acupuncture. In the majority of countries in the world a knowledge of western medicine is not required to be an acupuncturist. In China there are over four million barefoot doctors.


Acupuncture Anaesthesia : Over 5,000 cases of acupuncture anaesthesia in major surgery have been successfully carried out at the Kalubowila Hospital (Colombo) with the co-operation of the consultant anaesthesiologists and consultant surgeons. Acupuncture is very useful to overcome post operative pain and minimise operative scars.