Acupuncture taps internal healing forces

Monday, October 14, 2002 - Print Edition, Page H2

What's old is new again. Acupuncture, the ancient system of healing, developed over thousands of years as part of traditional medicine in China and other Eastern countries, is now common practice in Western medicine.

"I've been doing acupuncture for 28 years," says Dr. Linda Rapson, executive president of the Acupuncture Foundation of Canada Institute. "Over that period of time, I've seen a huge change in attitude among the public and doctors, to the point where a lot of people consider acupuncture to be quite mainstream."

The classical philosophy of acupuncture is that the healing force, called Qi flows inside the body through a system of twelve major meridians or channels. Each meridian acts like a river, cleansing and nourishing as it flows through the body. The meridians are connected internally to a specific organ -- for example, the lung or the spleen. Therefore, the acupuncture points on the skin's surface can be used to affect the corresponding internal organs -- the idea being to remove any obstruction in the flow of meridians that might result in imbalances, causing pain or disease.

Modern science, however, has come up with a much simpler explanation as to why acupuncture works. In 1976, Dr. Bruce Pomeranz, a neuroscientist with the University of Toronto, discovered that acupuncture stimulates the brain to release endorphins -- the body's natural pain reliever.

And, Dr. Rapson, points to more recent research using "functional magnetic resonance imaging" (MRI) studies that showed activity in the brain related to the eye when acupuncture was applied to a specific area of the foot that was traditional believed to have an effect on the eye.

"I believe there will be more of those studies and they will further substantiate the traditional concept," she adds.

Many people have turned to acupuncture for conditions that aren't well treated by Western medicine, Dr. Rapson explains, -- conditions like chronic fatigue, fibromyalgia, arthritis, headaches and allergies.

"You can essentially treat almost anything (with acupuncture), but it doesn't mean that it is the number one treatment," she says. "Nonetheless, it should used more that it is now."

Dr. Rapson has had great results using acupuncture on patients at the Lyndhurst Hospital -- the Toronto-based spinal cord injury rehabilitation facility. And Toronto Western hospital now uses acupuncture to treat the drug addicted at its detox centre.

"I think what must be happening when that treatment (detox) is done, is that we are stimulating dopamine," she explains. "You can use the same treatment to treat alcoholics, cocaine addicts and heroin addicts."

In terms of safety, Dr. Rapson says the record of acupuncture is unmatched by any other kind of medical treatment. The needles used are universally disposable, so there is no risk of contracting viruses or disease.

"And they are very, very fine," she adds. "You could put several of them in the shaft of a hypodermic needle, they are so thin. Overall, it is not a particularly uncomfortable treatment. It depends on what point you are placing the needles and how sensitive the patient is and how gentle the practitioner is."

The depth in which the needle is inserted is dependent on location, Dr. Rapson adds. The needle would be inserted deeper into the buttock area than it would if it was place inside the ear.

"Basically, the needle is inserted just enough for it to be grasped by the tissue."

The effects of acupuncture treatment are accumulative, she notes.

"A person might come in with an arthritic knee and have a series of treatments, maybe six to 10, and they will be fine for a long period of time," Dr. Rapson explains. "Now, if they had an arthritic knee where the cartilage was shot, that would be a different story. They couldn't expect to get the same long-term effect out of treatment."

Nonetheless, she says it's important to recognize that acupuncture has a therapeutic effect not just a symptomatic effect.

"It is not like taking aspirin and feeling better for a short while. You are actually getting a change in the tissues," she notes. "In fact, you can get an effect in the first treatment, especially with pain. It is not unusual to have an effect with the first treatment."

Some common
terms used in
Acupuncture Points Some spots or points on the body surface have properties to relieve or to cure the disease when pressure, acupuncture or heat (moxa-heat) is applied, these are called 'Acupuncture Points'. From the modern point of view, majority of the traditional points show lowered electrical resistance.

Acupunctoscope It is an electronic instrument used for detection and stimulation of acupuncture points. It is also known as electro-pulse stimulator. It generates a pulsed electric current, which stimulates the acupuncture points with or without a needle.

Ah-shi Points The tender points on the body surface are called ah-shi points. There is no precise location of these points, they may be situated anywhere on the body along any meridian. When the physician presses his thumb on the ah-shi point, the patient says, "Oh-yes, it is painful" and that is the Chinese meaning of ah-shi.

According to modern views, these points show lowered electrical resistance than other points of meridians. Needling on these points relieves pain.

Collaterals (Luo) The branches, which connect one meridian to another, are termed as collaterals. The vital energy 'Oi' flows from one meridian to another meridian through these collaterals to balance it.

Yin and Yang The negative and positive factors in the universe which activate the flow of vital energy (Qi) are known as Yin and Yang.

According to Chinese philosophy the sunny side represents Yang surface while the darker side (shadow) represents Yin surface.

The vital energy, which is flowing through the human body, can be categorized according to the surface of the body.

The imbalance of Yin and Yang can be restored to normal level by needling on specific acupuncture points. This is the basic Chinese concept of acupuncture.


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