As complementary therapies go, acupuncture is one of the most well respected and researched. Consequently, it enjoys wide acceptance in conventional medical circles and is now routinely recommended by all manner of doctors, nurses, and other health professionals. A recent WHO report found it effective for a wide range of symptoms and diseases, such as insomnia, depression, acne, lower back pain, and sciatica, along with many others.
While the theories and language of Traditional Chinese Medicine may not be accepted by Western doctors, there is little doubt that acupuncture works and practitioners are relatively easy to find. There are 2 main types of acupuncture generally practiced in the West today, with subdivisions in each. These are the Traditional Schools and the so-called Medical Acupuncture. The 1st is the holistic, oriental therapy that comes from China, the 2nd is a Westernised version used purely on a physical level. Medical acupuncture is normally practiced by Western medical practitioners such as GPs, physiotherapists or nurses. It is used mainly for pain relief and practitioners have only the bare minimum of training. This is in contrast with the Traditional approach which takes years of training and follows the Chinese medical system and works on physical, mental and emotional levels.
Traditional acupuncture is subdivided into a number of schools. The most popular is TCM (Traditional Chinese Medicine) which follows the way acupuncture is practiced in China. Other schools include 5-elements which is said to focus more on psychology and spiritual problems, and also Korean and Japanese acupuncture which are similar to TCM but with slightly different theoretical underpinnings.
How does it work?
The theory of Chinese medicine is based around Qi, the life-force that flows through all things. Imbalances in bodily systems cause a disruption to this flow, which can be remedied by insertion of tiny metal needles into specific parts of the body. Acupuncturists use a highly details method of diagnosis in order to understand the health of the whole person and thus calculate the site and type of Qi disharmony.
It can treat not only physical conditions but also psychological and emotional – In Chinese medicine these are all seen as interrelated. Often, chronic conditions that respond poorly to conventional treatment are suitable for this holistic approach as it treats the underlying cause of the condition rather than just suppressing symptoms.
History of Acupuncture
Acupuncture has a long but uncertain history. It was developed in ancient China at least 2000 years ago, possibly much earlier than that. Certainly, by the 1st or 2nd century BCE Chinese medicine was well developed – the classic text on the subject the new jing was written around this time – a book which is still consulted by practitioners today. Acupuncture continued to develop over thousands of years until the late 19th and early 20th centuries when China was in a period of turmoil. An influx of Western ideas into China, and the cultural and political changes initiated by Chairman Mao lead to traditional medicine becoming almost extinct. After the 2nd World War, however, China faced a massive health problem and traditional medicine, including acupuncture, was revived. From the 1950s, Western interest in this traditional healing method grew hugely, fueled by astounding reports of operations performed with only acupuncture anesthesia. It is now widely practiced all over the world.
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