The yin-yang of acupuncture

Photo: istockphoto.com/Boris Kaulin

Although North American interest in acupuncture began in the 1970s, this ancient form of Chinese medicine actually dates back to more than 2,000 years ago. References can be found in the clAlthough North American interest in acupuncture began in the 1970s, this ancient form of Chinese medicine actually dates back to more than 2,000 years ago. References can be found in the classic book of Chinese diagnosis and treatment, The Yellow Emperor's Classic of Medicine, written in third century BC.

The yin-yang of chi

Acupuncture is based on an ancient Chinese belief that energy circulates through the body via channels known as meridians. This body energy, or chi, travels top to bottom, side to side and from the inside to the outside. Disease occurs when our chi is blocked, so acupuncture treatments involve inserting fine, sterile needles into specific parts along the meridian channels to get the energy moving. Since the body has several hundred points along each meridian, most treatments focus on a specific area depending on the person's symptoms.

Variations

Auriculotherapy, or ear acupuncture, is a variation of the traditional methods and is based on the belief that the ear is a map of the body's organs. To maintain a steady energy along certain meridians sometimes small staples or small beads are placed at key points along the earlobe or just inside the ear. This is a popular treatment to help people stop smoking. Other variations include heating or twirling the needles, stimulating the needles with weak electrical current, ultrasound, or certain wavelengths of light. Often practitioners combine acupuncture with other aspects of Traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) such as using medicinal herbs, exercise and changes in diet.

Happy anniversary

It's estimated that between 10 and 15 million North Americans now use acupuncture, despite ongoing debate over its effectiveness. In 1997 the National Institutes of Health (NIH) declared it a viable treatment and the Society for Acupuncture Research (SAR) is holding a special conference this November in Maryland celebrating the 10-year anniversary of the NIH endorsement.

Find a practitioner

If you're interested in receiving acupuncture treatment you want to find a practitioner trained to meet certain standards and affiliated with a reputable organization. The Chinese Medicine and Acupuncture Association of Canada has a listing of registered practitioners, as does the American Association of Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine and The British Medical Acupuncture Society. When choosing a practitioner, look for a diploma from an accredited school on display. Practitioners should always use a new set of disposable needles taken from a sealed package during each treatment and should swab your skin with alcohol or some other disinfectant before inserting needles. You can learn more about acupuncture through the American National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM).