Chinese Medicine and Acupuncture
Chinese Medicine is a holistic philosophy of medicine, meaning that the body is considered in a whole way, as more than the sum of its parts, and that each part is interdependent and relies upon the other parts for its proper function. It is an ancient and time honoured practice that has many different treatment methods in its repertoire. Its primary tools are acupuncture, herbal medicine and massage, but also includes the use of ancillary methods such as cupping, gua sha (a spoon shaped tool to expel heat and stagnation), moxa (a herb that is burnt to add warmth and stimulate a point or area), electro-stimulation, and liniments or balms that contain herbs and warming elements.
Chinese Medicine philosophy also encompasses the Qi (vital life force) which inhabits every living thing and travels through the body via meridians (pathways). Acupuncture points lie at specific locations along these meridians and this is where the energy is at its strongest and can be accessed by a practitioner.
Chinese Herbal Medicine
Chinese Herbal Medicine has developed over thousands of years and involves the use of primarily plant based products ranging from exotic species to more common ingredients such as ginger and liquorice. While it originated in China it is now used all across the world, to provide effective treatment for a wide range of conditions. It is a health system that is used preventatively, the idea being to treat imbalance before it becomes chronic or is too hard to change. Uniquely, herbal medicine has the ability to address the same disease differently, as each person has diverse underlying causes for the same condition. Herbal medicines are individually prescribed and can be altered as diagnostic patterns begin to shift, or the focus of the treatment changes. Herbs are excellent for internal conditions as they are able to directly affect the physiology of the body, such as the organ systems and the blood or fluids.
Acupuncture is a powerful, yet gentle practice of medicine that has wide ranging benefits. A famous Chinese proverb says that “where there is pain, there is no free flow, where there is free flow there is no pain.” Acupuncture directly addresses this idea by endeavouring to get things free flowing again. It involves the use of fine, sterile needles that are inserted into the acupuncture points and stimulated in order to move blocked or stagnated Qi to reduce pain, or to balance and build Qi and blood, encouraging the body to function normally again. It has the added benefit of being very calming and people often find they are able to get into a deeply relaxed state which provides excellent ground for healing.
What is acupuncture used for?
Because the goal of acupuncture is to promote and restore the balance of energy, which flows throughout the body, the benefits of acupuncture can extend to a wide variety of conditions, from emotional disorders (anxiety, depression) to digestive complaints (nausea, vomiting, irritable bowl syndrome)). It can be beneficial for pain syndromes due to an injury or associated with chronic degenerative diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis. It can also be helpful in treating neurological problems like migraines or as a rehabilitation strategy for individuals who suffered a stroke. Respiratory conditions, including sinusitis and asthma have been relieved with acupuncture, as have many gynecologic disorders and infertility. Acupuncture has also proved beneficial for reducing fatigue and addictions, and for promoting overall well-being.
Studies indicate that acupuncture can help relieve chronic low back pain, dental pain, migraine headaches, fibromyalgia and symptoms of osteoarthritis. It has been shown to assist in the treatment of emotional pain syndromes such as post-traumatic stress disorder, as well as controlling chemotherapy-induced nausea and vomiting. It has also demonstrated clinical success in achieving pregnancy when used in conjunction with in-vitro fertilization.
What should one expect on a visit to a practitioner of acupuncture?
Typically, the first acupuncture visit involves a comprehensive health history assessment. Questions that are included may seem strange, but in Traditional Chinese Medicine – which encompasses acupuncture, herbal medicine, massage and other modalities – energy flow and whole-body interaction are the keys to diagnosing all physical disease. For example, the practitioner may ask to examine your tongue, feel your pulse to help determine energy flow, or ask many questions related to bowel habits and diet, even if these seem to have nothing to do with the primary complaint.
After the initial acupuncture consultation and assessment, the needles are placed in very specific locations. Upon insertion, one may feel a momentary sharp or stinging sensation; however, many report they don’t even feel the majority of the insertions. It is common to experience a deep ache for a short time in some of the points. The acupuncture needles may then be gently manipulated and some practitioners may use heat or even electricity with the needles.
The depth to which the acupuncture needles are inserted varies according to the treatment and the practitioner; however, needles should never be positioned deep enough to puncture organs (other than the skin). The needles are usually left in place for five to 20 minutes, usually no longer than 60 minutes, and then removed. Following an acupuncture treatment, practitioners will usually reassess the client and often give suggestions for home care.
It is also typical to suggest supplemental Chinese herbs to enhance the achievement of energetic balance. Acute symptoms may require only two to four treatments; whereas for chronic cases, it is common to have as many as 12 or more treatments, usually over a course of eight to 10 weeks. Regular monthly visits may be suggested as preventive measures to decrease stress, improve energy or boost immunity.