Acupuncture originated over 2000 years ago in China and is one of the most common medical practices used around the world today. Acupuncture involves the insertion of hair thin, sterile, disposable needles into strategic points on the body that are specific for particular complaints or conditions. The practice of acupuncture has experienced a surge of popularity in the United States in recent years and has been clinically shown and medically accepted as an effective tool in the reduction of pain, balancing of emotions, and promotion of healing in a number of ways.
Traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) and acupuncture are based on a concept of balanced qi (pronounced “chee”), or vital energy, that flows throughout the body. Qi regulates all aspects of the body, influencing spiritual, emotional, mental, and physical balance. Disease occurs when the flow of qi is disrupted and yin (negative energy) and yang (positive energy) become imbalanced. Among the components of TCM are Chinese herbal therapy, meditation, restorative exercises (tai chi, qigong), acupuncture, and oriental massage.
The Western medical understanding (North American conventional medical thought) of how acupuncture works is quite different philosophically. In Western society, the concepts of qi, yin, and yang are largely foreign and difficult to understand in terms of treating disease. Scientists have found ways that fit their scientific model of how and why acupuncture works. The effects of acupuncture on the body involves the release of opioid peptides in the body. The opioid peptides are comprised of endorphins, enkephallins, and dynorphins, types of neurotransmitters. These opioid peptides are closely involved with reducing the perception of pain in the central nervous system and evoking a feeling of contentment (similar to the feeling of a ‘runners high’ achieved after vigorous exercise). Acupuncture has also been linked to increased levels of specific hormones that improve the body’s immune function and its response to stress.