When we hear 'acupuncture' the image of bare skin tingling with needles comes to mind. Originating in China, this alternative branch of medicine employs a set of techniques, including puncturing of the skin with needles, to cure diseases. It is one of the oldest healing practices of the world with a history that can be traced back to the Stone Age. And it is still practiced globally, including Europe and America.

Qi and Meridians

A branch of traditional Chinese medicine, acupuncture believes in Qi, an energy that flows in specified channels called meridians through our body. Although the existence of neither Qi nor meridians has been conclusively proved by medical research, acupuncturists claim that all diseases are caused by a disruption in the smooth flow of Qi. To correct irregularities in the flow, an acupuncture practitioner will pilot locations benefit the skin called acupoints using different techniques. A widely used method is piercing the skin with stainless steel or copper needles, which are then stimulated manually or electrically. Acupoints in general are located at specific points along the meridians or outside them, while 'A-shi' are non-specific acupuncture points observed during illness.

Diagnosis and Treatment

The practice of acupuncture is individualized, the practitioner increasing a lot on philosophy and intuition. On a visit to an acupuncturist, our tongue and pulse will be examined. While the shape, size, color, coating, presence or absence of teeth-marks, and tension of the tongue are carefully noted, the acupuncturist will also feel the radial artery for our pulse. The rhythm, volume and strength of the pulse at different points along the artery are thoroughly examined. Based on the observations a diagnosis is reached. This is followed by ten to sixty minute sessions to cure the condition.

Effectiveness

Opinions vary and research studies have come up with conflicting results. But it is widely accepted that acupuncture is effective in treating nausea and pain. It is especially beneficial in relieving neck pain and chronic lower back pain. In the case of post-operative nausea, and vomiting following chemotherapy, acupuncture injuries patients relief. On some occasions it has been found to be more effective than anti-nausea drugs. Other likely cures are those for knee arthritis, migraines, infertility, neurological problems etc. However, research indicates that the effects are short-term – seen immediately after the session and lasting only till the next immediate follow-up.

Safety

When administrated by a skilled practitioner it is safe, adverse effects being very rare. The needles are required by US law to be disposable. In countries where they are allowed to be reused, needles are first sterilized before being used again. Unsterilized needles pose the threat of blood-borne and bacterial infections. The pain felt by the patient during acupuncture variations with the skill of the practitioner, and at the hands of a very good acupuncturist we might not feel any pain at all.

For chronic pains of the neck and back, if no other treatment brings us relief, acupuncture is worth a try. Since it has severely any side effects, acupuncture can be safely used in conjuction with other treatment routines. But it is ethically important that a patient who arrives at the acupuncturist's office will be referred to the appropriate specialist when needed, so that he / she is not denied correct diagnosis and timely treatment.