Acupuncture involves the practice of introducing very thin needles into the skin to stimulate specific anatomical points in the body which have therapeutic benefits, known as acupoints or acupuncture points. In addition to the customary method of piercing the skin with tiny needles, the practitioner also employs other techniques such as suction, friction, electromagnetic waves, heat and pressure for stimulating the acupoints. Stimulation of the acupoints balances the movement of energy (qi) in the body which helps in restoration and maintenance of health. Interruptions in the flow of energy are believed to be responsible for occurrence of different disease conditions.
The stimulation of acupoints can be performed by a variety of techniques. The most common method is through the use of needles, but stimulation can also be manipulated manually or through electrical stimulation. The acupuncture needles are sterile, single-use with the same quality standards similar to that of other medical devices.
The most common injury that has been reported by the use of acupuncture needles is unintentional puncture of the lung resulting in partial collapse of the lungs, a condition known as pneumothorax. The other possible adverse effects reported include liver infection (viral hepatitis) and bacterial infection at the site of needle insertion.
Mechanism of acupuncture
Various mechanisms are involved in the multiple biological responses shown by acupuncture. These responses can occur locally or far from the site of stimulation, mediated through the sensory neurons. Acupuncture may activate certain pathways affecting the physiological functioning of the central nervous system (CNS) and peripheral nervous system. The possible mechanisms include:
- Release of chemical messengers such as opioids and other peptides
- Activation of hypothalamus and pituitary gland affecting neuroendocrine function of the body
- Alteration in the secretion of neurotransmitters and neurohormones
Acupuncture is being widely employed for various therapeutic purposes such as prevention and treatment of various disease conditions, pain management and anesthetic effect for surgery. The medical conditions for which acupuncture is employed as an adjunct treatment include:
- Stroke rehabilitation
- Menstrual cramps
- Carpal tunnel syndrome
- Myofascial pain
- Lower back pain