by Richard Halvorsen
There are two fundamentally different approaches to acupuncture.
Acupuncture as part of Traditional Chinese Medicine
Traditional Chinese acupuncture is based on traditional Chinese medicine (TCM), an ancient system of medicine originating in the East two thousand years ago.
This is based on the belief that energy (or Qi, pronounced ‘chee’) flows throughout the body along channels or ‘meridians’. Balance and harmony are considered integral to the concept of health and any obstruction to the smooth flow of Qi throughout the body can cause disease. The concept of harmony is also represented in the balance between Yin and Yang.
It is believed that pain, or illness, occurs if the body becomes out of balance and the energy (Qi) is prevented from flowing freely. The purpose of acupuncture is to remove any blockages and enable the energy to flow freely and harmoniously throughout the body, thereby restoring balance and health. This is done by inserting needles strategically at acupuncture points situated along the meridians.
Western Medical Acupuncture
Acupuncture is seen to act primarily by stimulating the nervous system and by its ability to stimulate the release of a wide variety of chemicals and hormones in the body.
Though traditional acupuncture points are commonly used, points are also selected because they are trigger points, or because they connect to the part of the body being treated via the spinal cord (segmental acupuncture).
There are several mechanisms by which acupuncture is known to work scientifically:
- Trigger point acupunctureTrigger points are tight knots of muscle that can be extremely painful especially when pressed. They arise out of injury, either a sudden accident (a whiplash injury is a classic cause of trigger points in the muscles of the neck, though they can form from something as simple as lifting something too heavy) or long-term overuse (trigger points are usually found in the muscles of a repetitive strain injury or RSI).
- Local stimulationAcupuncture needles stimulate nerve endings in the skin and muscle where the needles are inserted. This causes the release of various substances and an increase in blood flow all of which encourage healing.
- Segmental acupunctureThe needles stimulate the level, or ‘segment’, of the spinal cord that connects – via nerves – with the area of skin or muscle that the needle is inserted in. This helps relieve pain in the affected area, but can also have an effect on the internal organs of the body that are connected to the same level of the spinal cord.
- Central regulatory effectsAcupuncture has an effect on many parts of the brain, and this has been demonstrated in brain scans. It has a calming effect on many patients and improves their wellbeing. It influences various hormones such as the female hormones controlling the menstrual cycle and fertility.
I practice both Chinese (TCM) acupuncture and Western Scientific acupuncture, using whichever system is most appropriate for the problem being presented to me. As I work in a multidisciplinary musculoskeletal clinic I see many muscular problems and these are usually most effectively treated with trigger point acupuncture. However those who come to see me with less specific symptoms, such as exhaustion or menopausal hot flushes, are often better helped using TCM acupuncture.
I am a recognised provider of acupuncture with all major health insurers.