ecomii - a better way
June 18, 2018  |  Login
By James F. Balch, M.D. and Mark Stengler, N.D.
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When seeking an acupuncturist, look for someone who's thoroughly trained and certified. In China, acupuncturists are expected to complete a five-year course, which includes two years of herbal medicine. In the West, an acupuncturist should have completed at least a three-year course.


Acupuncture quickly assumed a vital role in Chinese medicine, offering a way to regulate the flow of qi in the meridians. Acupressure and acupuncture are very similar in the way that they stimulate the same points to encourage the flow of energy and relief from stress and pain.

But acupuncture picks up where the milder acupressure leaves off and can offer lasting relief for people with chronic pain.

In the early days, acupuncture needles were made from sharpened slivers of bone or bamboo, inserted into one of many acupuncture points linked along the meridians to the organs and identified because of their therapeutic properties in certain disorders. Today those needles are made from stainless steel or come with copper-coated tops. Some physicians prefer to use silver or gold needles. Most practitioners, in fact, have adopted the Western practice of using disposable needles. In the West, disposable needles are the preferred choice.

Today acupuncture is used to treat a whole range of modern maladies. The uses of acupuncture extend to backaches, colds, angina, headaches, tinnitus, glaucoma, tonsillitis, sunstroke, asthma, impotence, and psoriasis, to name only a few conditions. While it may not offer a cure-all for cancer or AIDS, acupuncture can help relieve many of the painful symptoms and the effects of the modern therapies used for those diseases. More and more of our colleagues are adding it to their list of useful therapies.

Acupuncture is most often used in the West to treat chronic ­ conditions, but it is occasionally used to treat certain acute disorders. Within TCM, though, acupuncture is routinely used to help fine-tune the system and restore balance.

Think of an acupuncturist as a piano tuner, carefully checking each of the ivory and ebony keys and adjusting any sour note to conform to its harmonic whole. In our view, this is even more important today, as we deal with an ever-rising level of stress in our modern world. We need "new," yet tested, ways to dissolve the damaging array of stressors to which we are continually subjected.

Some sites on the body's map of meridians and acupuncture points, particularly at our extremities, are associated with treatments for specific disorders. The most commonly punctured points are between the elbows and the fingertips and between the toes and the knees.

Extremely fine needles are used for thin-skinned patients, while someone who is particularly fleshy may call for somewhat thicker ­ needles. Needles also vary in length, from half an inch to three inches. In no case should the procedure cause pain. Most patients describe the feeling as a tingling sensation, though some people remark that a numbness may set in at the insertion point.

In all cases, a variety of points will be selected and needles inserted, often leaving the hand or some other extremity looking like a pincushion.

In order to help stimulate energy flow, a practitioner may occasionally stroke a needle, rotate it, or flick it with a finger. Some acupuncturists have elected to connect their needles to a small electric stimulator, which sends a slight electric charge through the needles into the tissue. The technique varies from one acupuncturist to the next, and for each patient.

There are now several Western theories to explain the undeniable benefits of acupuncture. Under the neurotransmitter theory, Western scientists postulate that these needles inhibit spinal cord nerve cells and release beta-endorphins and other substances that deaden pain and relieve patients.

Acupuncture, they theorize, also helps to stimulate anti-inflammatory cell activity, increase skin temperature, and stimulate the flow of blood. more

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