In the early seventies, US relations with China began to slowly thaw.  During one highly publicized trip, a member of President Nixon’s party was stricken with appendicitis. His appendectomy was performed using acupuncture instead of traditional Western anaesthesia.  On a subsequent trip the press reported on several displays of major surgeries being performed with acupuncture as the only anaesthetic. This publicity was pivotal in opening western doors to eastern medicine.

Acupuncture is part of a complete medical system known as Traditional Oriental Medicine (TOM) that is used to diagnose and treat illness, manage chronic disorders, alleviate pain, and promote health through prevention and maintenance.  It is used extensively throughout many parts of the world for physical, emotional and psychological problems.  Traditional Oriental Medicine is in fact the most widely used healing system in the world.  It combines herbs, moxabustion (a form of heating), cupping, gua sha (scraping skin to increase circulation), massage, diet, and gentle exercise along with acupuncture to correct energy imbalances in the body.

History of Acupuncture: The practice of acupuncture is rooted in ancient China. It is extensively covered in The Yellow Emperor’s Classic of Internal Medicine, a comprehensive documentation of Traditional Chinese Medicine during the time of Huang-ti (2697 to 2595 B.C).  It is one of the oldest Chinese medical books in existence, and is still one of the main reference books on acupuncture theory.   Acupuncture spread into other Asian countries in about A.D. 1000 and was introduced into Europe about A.D. 1700.  Medical doctors have used acupuncture in Canada for at least 100 years.  Sir William Osler (1849-1919), an extremely influential Ontario physician (who was knighted for his many medical contributions) used Acupuncture to treat low back pain.

Mechanism:  So just what is it and how does it work?  At the most basic of level, acupuncture can be described as the insertion of very fine needles into the skin at specific points in order to influence the functioning of the body.  There are 365 traditional points on the body, but in the last 30 years scientific equipment has been developed that has found even more points.  How acupuncture works is not so simple.  The oriental medical model is so radically different from the western way of thinking that we have yet to understand how acupuncture works within a scientific framework.  In Chinese medicine it is theorized that the human body has a natural flow of energy that is said to travel through the body along channels or “meridians”.  Acupuncture points lie on these meridians.  Treatment is focused on either increasing or decreasing the flow in any given meridian to bring the body more into balance.

Although the exact mechanism that would explain how acupuncture works is still unknown, recent studies by Dr. Bruce Pomeranz at the U of T have provided some scientific insight into how acupuncture affects pain.  Dr. Pomeranz’s findings focused on the ability of acupuncture to stimulate the production of endorphins, to control pain in the body. (Endorphins have been found to be nearly one thousand times stronger than morphine.)  Thus, there is now scientific validation as to how acupuncture controls pain.  Along with the release of endorphins, another substance called cortisol is simultaneously released. Cortisol is the body’s own natural anti-inflammatory drug. Controlling pain and reducing inflammation helps to promote healing; this seems to explain why acupuncture works so well for joint and structural disorders.  While these studies shed some light on a few of the mechanisms of acupuncture, it’s effects on the body are undoubtedly much more complex than this.  Believe it or not, there are many examples in medicine where the mechanism of a particular modality or disease is not well understood, but if a treatment gives predictable results without serious side effects it is considered to have efficacy. Acupuncture, having been performed for over 4000 years is probably one of the longest standing examples of this approach.

What you will feel: An acupuncture needle is very fine, about the diameter of a thick hair, and is made from stainless steel. Unlike a hypodermic needle, it is not hollow and nothing is injected into the body. Practitioners use either disposable needles or sterilized, reusable needles. When a needle is inserted into an acupuncture point you will usually feel a sensation of warmth, slight numbness, heaviness or mild achiness at the point of insertion.

Conditions it treats:  Acupuncture claims to treat virtually any health condition. Studies show positive effects on 37 different conditions covering everything from Addictions to Allergies, Arthritis, Angina, Chronic Fatigue, Headaches, High Blood Pressure, Inflammation, Irritable Bowel Syndrome, Low Back Pain, Neck and Shoulder Pain, and even PMS.  Acupuncture continues to be well researched, and lends itself fairly well to scientific trials studying its efficacy for given conditions.  One good site listing over 82 studies is (click on ARTICLES then on RESEARCH).

Acupuncture is a fascinating modality, steeped in history & mystery.  Like many other forms of complimentary medicine it is almost side effect free.  So if you aren’t getting results with your health using traditional methods, perhaps it’s time to consider acupuncture.

The following is a list of conditions, which the World Health Organization determined may respond to acupuncture.

Upper Respiratory Tract
•   Acute sinusitis
•   Acute rhinitis
•   Common Cold
•   Acute tonsillitis

Respiratory System
•   Acute bronchitis
•   Bronchial asthma (most effective in children and in patients without complicating diseases)

Disorders of the Eye
•   Acute conjunctivitis
•   Central retinitis
•   Myopia (in children)
•   Cataract (without complications)

Disorders of the Mouth
•   Toothache, post-extraction pain
•   Gingivitis
•   Acute and chronic pharyngitis
Gastro-intestinal Disorders
•   Spasms of esophagus and cardia
•   Hiccough
•   Gastroptosis
•   Acute and chronic gastritis
•   Gastric hyperacidity
•   Chronic duodenal ulcer (pain relief)
•   Acute duodenal ulcer (without complications)
•   Acute and chronic colitis
•   Acute bacillary dysentery
•   Constipation
•   Diarrhea
•   Paralytic ileus

Neurological and Musculo-skeletal Disorders
•   Headache and migraine
•   Trigeminal neuralgia
•   Facial palsy (early stage, i.e., within three to six months)
•   Pareses following a stroke
•   Peripheral neuropathies
•   Sequelae of poliomyelitis (early stage, i.e., within six months)
•   Meniere’s disease
•   Neurogenic bladder dysfunction
•   Nocturnal enuresis
•   Intercostal neuralgia
•   Cervicobrachial syndrome
•   “Frozen shoulder,” “tennis elbow”
•   Sciatica
•   Low back pain
•   Osteoarthritis