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The Healing Powers of Acupuncture


Text by Henrylito D. Tacio

Photo credit: Getty Images

IF you were in the hot seat of the popular television show, “Who Wants to be a Millionaire,” and the host asked you this question: It is an ancient Chinese medical procedure involving insertion and manipulation of needles at more than 360 points in the human body. 

What is your answer? Your choices are: (a) aromatherapy, (b) chiropractic, (c) acupuncture, and (d) hypnotherapy. You have used all your lifelines and your one question away to one million pesos. Got the right answer? Yes, you’re right, acupuncture.

Acupuncture, applied to relieve pain during surgery or in rheumatic conditions, and to treat many other illnesses, is used today in most hospitals in China and by some private practitioners in Japan and elsewhere, including the United States.

Acupressure, a variant in which the practitioner uses manipulation rather than penetration to alleviate pain or other symptoms, is in widespread use in Japan and has begun to find adherents in the U.S. Also known as shiatsu, acupressure is administered by pressing with the fingertips – and sometimes the elbows or knees – along with a complex network of trigger points in the patient’s body.

Historical records show that acupuncture is over 5000 years old. Contrary to common belief, it was not just practiced in China. The South African Bantu tribesman scratched parts of their bodies to cure disease. The Arabs cauterized their ears with hot metal probes. The Eskimos used sharp stones for simple acupuncture. Brazilian cannibals shot tiny arrows with blowpipes to diseased parts of their bodies to cure disease.

Fishbones, bamboo clips later replaced primitive sharp stones and bamboo and later various shapes of needles made of metal. Today very fine hair-thin needles are used. With advanced technology and precision instruments, these needles are placed at specific points of the body with little or no discomfort.

The very first book on acupuncture was the Nei Ching Su Wen, written about 200 B.C. It had two parts: the Su Wen and Ling Shu. Until 1932, acupuncture flourished in China when Chiang Khai-shek took power in China. He brought western medicine to China, and acupuncture was banned in the cities. When Mao Tse Tung took over in 1945 and Chang escaped to the island of Formosa (now Taiwan), the doors to China were closed to the west, and acupuncture again was restored as the method of healing in a country devoid of antibiotics and western medical thinking.

Dr. George T. Lewith, author of Acupuncture: Its Place in Western Medical Science, says the first recorded use of acupuncture in the West was in the 17th century by Dr. Berlioz at the Paris Medical School in 1810. He treated a young woman suffering from abdominal pain. The Paris Medical Society described this as a somewhat reckless form of treatment, but Dr. Berlioz continued to use acupuncture and claimed a great deal of success with it.

But it was not until in 1972, when President Richard Nixon opened the doors to China, that acupuncture made headlines again. A New York Times journalist James Reston was in China at the time and had an emergency appendectomy with acupuncture used as the anesthetic. This brought great notoriety to acupuncture and renewed interest in this form of treatment.

Today, acupuncture is practiced around the world. In Japan, for instance, there are 8,500 doctors in the Oriental Medical Association developing methodology in acupuncture to complement western medicine.

In the United States, more and more practitioners are now developing knowledge and new skills in acupuncture. Many are incorporating all the modalities from the various countries, using hand, ear, Chinese, Japanese and scalp acupuncture along with Russian reflexology and adapting these techniques to modern times with the use of modern technology to produce what is now called American Acupuncture.

The medical school of the University of California in Los Angeles has been teaching acupuncture to physicians under the leadership of Dr. Joseph Helms. In 18 states, only doctors can perform acupuncture. Border states like Florida, California, and New York allow non-physicians to perform acupuncture. All require licensing.

As most people know it, acupuncture makes use of very fine needles. During an acupuncture treatment, needles are either inserted for a second or two or left in place for up to 20 to 30 minutes, depending on the effect required. During this time, there may be a heavy sensation in the limbs and a pleasant feeling of relaxation.

Sometimes, an herbal preparation known as moxabustion is smoldered on or held near to the acupuncture point and removed when the patient feels it becoming hot. Gentle electrical stimuli may also be applied through the needles, giving a sensation of tingling or buzzing.

Other methods of treating acupuncture points include massage (acupressure), tapping with a rounded probe, and laser. These are techniques that are particularly suitable for children or for people who have a genuine fear of needles.

Health experts say that treatment with acupuncture can produce rapid results, but more often, it requires a number of treatments over a period of time. Usually, treatments are once or twice a week, but they can be less frequent. Sometimes the effect is quite dramatic, and the patient will only need one or two treatments. Sometimes the effect is subtle and may require treatment for several months. There is, however, usually some change after about five treatments.

The Geneva-based World Health Organization (WHO) has listed 36 diseases as among those which acupuncture is capable of healing. These include severe migraine, frozen shoulder, lumbago or lower back pain, the common cold, influenza, Bell’s palsy, slipped disc, intractable pain or pains which persist even after Computerized Tomography (C.T.) scan and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) yield negative results, stroke, as well as cancer pains.

“When it comes strokes, acupuncture can help the person return to functional state, although it cannot really restore a person completely back to normal,” says Dr. Edilberto M. Concepcion, a medical doctor, and acupuncturist who trained in acupuncture at the Fujian College of Traditional Chinese Medicine in Fuzhou, Fujian Province. “As for the cure of cancer, this is still questionable, although acupuncture helps ease the pain and we’re getting good results from what we’re doing. The key is to catch the illness early.” 

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