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Acupuncture is a safe and effective holistic medicine backed by more than two thousand years of practice and research. It is practiced worldwide both as a primary and adjunctive treatment for a wide range of conditions. While there are somewhat standard treatment protocols for many conditions, the clinical success of acupuncture is related - at least in part - to the wide range of diagnostic signs and symptoms which are taken into effect when looking at an imbalance. For a condition such as arthritis affecting the knees, a clinical acupuncturist may look at your tongue, check your pulse, ask about your diet and lifestyle, palpate your spine, etc. This range of diagnostic information allows acupuncture practitioners to develop a treatment strategy that is unique to you and your experience of a particular condition.
o Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM):
TCM is the general term for the style of acupuncture which most acupuncturists are trained in, at least initially, and the style which most people practice. As this is the most foundational grouping there is a broad range of techniques used and treatment protocols. Most recent clinical studies regarding acupuncture usually use treatment techniques a/or protocols based on TCM Theory.
o Japanese Acupuncture:
Japanese Acupuncture is a style of acupuncture which requires additional training above and beyond general TCM Theory and Practice. The techniques within Japanese acupuncture are generally aimed at using the least amount of stimulation to create the greatest effect. To contrast with TCM, Japanese acupuncture typically uses thinner needles, less points and less stimulation by using shallower needle insertions even to the point of just touching the needle to the skin. Much of the Traditional Chinese Medicine theory is still used and the majority of the acupuncture points are used with only a few modifications.
o Korean Acupuncture:
Korean Acupuncture is another broad categorization which in actual practice includes some unique techniques and applications as well as techniques and theory from both TCM and Japanese acupuncture. In general there is more use of the Five Element Theory and an emphasis on your body type or constitution when developing treatments. Korean Hand Acupuncture is a popular subset of Korean Acupuncture where the hands are considered a micro system of the entire body. Within this system you may diagnose and treat conditions anywhere in the body by treating just the hands. This is similar in theory to Auricular Acupuncture.
o Five Element Acupuncture:
Five Element Acupuncture is a specialty practice which can be similar in needling style to Japanese Acupuncture but tends to concentrate more on the psycho-spiritual nature of a person to heal disease - including physical disease. Most practitioners will have gone to a school that specializes in Five Element acupuncture or at least have done post-graduate study at one.
o Auricular Acupuncture:
Auricular Acupuncture may be considered both an adjunctive technique and a specialty area. Auricular acupuncture uses the ears as a microcosm, or representation, of the entire body.
Acupuncture is a very old medical art, and there are many approaches to learning and practicing it. Clinical acupuncture is the term used to describe acupuncture performed by a doctor trained and licensed in Western medicine that has also had thorough training and certification in acupuncture. Such a doctor can use one or the other approach, or a combination of both as the need arises, to support treatment of a condition. At KCA, Dr. Buchan provides acupuncture for musculoskeletal problems.
How does acupuncture affect pain?
Since the 1970s, much scientific information has been gathered about the physiologic mechanism by which acupuncture works. Most of this research has been focused on acupuncture's ability to relieve pain.
When an acupuncture needle is inserted into a traditional acupuncture point, certain nerve fibers are stimulated, which results in a nerve impulse being sent to the spinal cord. Here, endorphogenic cells are stimulated to release endorphins (brain chemicals) such as enkephalin and dynorphin. These substances provide local inhibition (blocking) of the incoming pain signal.
In addition to affecting the spinal cord, the nerve impulse produced by the acupuncture needle is also transmitted to the peri-aqueductal gray area of the mid-brain, where enkephalin is released. Enkephalin, in turn, brings about the release of the monoamine neurotransmitters serotonin and norepinephrine in the spinal cord. These monoamines play a role in suppressing the transmission of the pain impulse. In addition to its role in reducing pain, serotonin is involved in producing an anti-depressant effect in the brain. In fact, many of the newest anti-depressant drugs work by prolonging the effect of serotonin in the brain.
A third effect brought about by acupuncture is the release of beta-endorphin and adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH) from the pituitary gland into the bloodstream and csf. The endorphins produce system-wide pain relief, remote from the area where the acupuncture needle was inserted. ACTH, in turn, activates the adrenal gland to release cortisol into the bloodstream. Cortisol is a naturally occurring steriod substance that has anti-inflammatory properties.
The net result of these three areas being stimulated is an inhibition of the incoming pain sensation locally, a general, morphine-like, pain-relieving effect throughout the body, an anti-inflammatory effect and a general sense of improved well-being.
The precise choice of acupuncture points, regarding whether they are near the painful site or farther away, determines which of the three pathways mentioned are primarily activated. Placing needles near the painful site brings about a more intense pain relief, because it activates all three centers (spinal cord, midbrain, and pituitary gland). Local needling also maximizes inhibition of the incoming pain signal at the segmental region of the spinal cord. Needling acupuncture points distant to the painful area predominantly affects the mid-brain and pituitary gland. In general, a combination of local and distant acupuncture points are used together during a treatment, in order to maximize the effects at all three centers.
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