Extensive Guide to Acupuncture in Modern Times

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Acupuncture is an effective Traditional Chinese Medicine treatment that you can turn to for pain management, emotional imbalance, sleep management and various women’s health issues (including fertility concerns). Its effectiveness goes beyond symptom management. Acupuncture also regulates and enhances the circulation of your Qi (vital energy). It restores the yin-yang balance of your body. By inserting needles into specific acupoints in an appropriate combination, the energy of the targeted visceral system will be rebalanced; hence, the root cause of the disease may be resolved.

In recent decades, acupuncture has been increasingly embraced in Western medicine as a potential treatment for chronic inflammation. Researchers in Harvard University are making a lot of progress in understanding the science, particularly the neural pathway behind it.

Acupuncture has also become a very popular alternative treatment for patients who suffer from stress, depression, anxiety, insomnia and other emotional trauma in recent years. They choose acupuncture as the treatment option mainly due to the actual benefit they experienced and the minimal side effects.

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Acupuncture as a Traditional Chinese Medicine Practice

The ancient practice of acupuncture started in China approximately 3000 years ago. By then, the major Qi flow channels (meridian) were already well documented. The first document that described acupuncture as an organized system of diagnosis and treatment is The Yellow Emperor’s Classic of Internal Medicine, dating from about 100 BC. Acupuncture continued to develop in China in the subsequent centuries and gradually became one of the standard therapies used in China, alongside other treatments like moxibustion and acupressure, which also utilize the knowledge of meridian and acupoints.

Meridians and Acupuncture Points

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Acupuncture is based on a meridian theory, which incorporates a system of channels through which vital energy, or Qi, flows. We may visualize the meridian as superhighways for our qi to move. Along the meridians, there are particular points where the qi or energy would like to gather. These points are what we call as the acupoints.

Function of Meridians

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Under the Traditional Chinese Medicine framework, there are 12 pairs of principal meridians. These principal meridians are bilaterally symmetrical. Each pair of meridians is associated with a particular visceral (organ) system. The visceral systems share the same anatomical names in Western medicine (e.g. Lung, Liver and Heart). However, it is not only referring to the anatomically fixed, discrete organ structure and its physiological function. Each visceral system is associated with a particular emotion, body parts, sensory organ and orifices.

Take the Lung system as an example. When qi movement is disturbed in the lung system, it may manifest as a cough, breathing problems and upper respiratory infections. An imbalance in the lung system can also cause various skin conditions as well as despair and sadness. By stimulating the acupoints along these meridians, signals will be sent to the inner visceral system, rebalance the energy and restore its normal functioning.

There are eight extraordinary meridians that are not associated with any organ. They serve as reservoirs for energy and essential substances. They direct these substances to where they are needed in the body. They also function as superhighway connectors for the 12 principal meridians. In clinical practice, these extraordinary meridians are commonly used to moderate stress, emotional imbalances and treat various psychosomatic symptoms (e.g. insomnia, IBS).

Why Are Acupuncture Points Important?

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Acupoints are defined areas on the skin relative to certain anatomy structure landmarks on the body. Most of the acupoints are located along the meridians. If we visualize the meridian as a superhighway for our energy (Qi) to move, the acupoint could be understood as the particular points on the highway where this energy is gathering. These acupoints can be reliably detected with electrodermal measurements.

When these acupoints are stimulated, there may be an effect on healing local symptoms like moderating local pain or soothing the nearby skin conditions. In addition, it may have a systematic effect on healing the condition that is relevant to the related meridians.

Modern-day clinical studies suggest that when acupoints are stimulated, a certain chemical may be released to adjust the function of the related organs and maintain its homeostasis. As most of the acupoints are located on or near neural structures, this also suggests that some healing effects may also be gained from activating the nervous system in a beneficial way.

From a Traditional Chinese medicine point of view, one’s health greatly depends on the yin-yang balance and a smooth flow of energy and blood in the body. Acupuncturists believe that problems or blockages in the flow of energy along the meridians due to toxins, stress, trauma, hormones or diet can cause many ailments. By stimulating the appropriate acupoints, the blockage can be removed; the flow of qi and blood can be enhanced; at the same time, the body could restore its balance.

Needles, however, are not the only means to stimulate the acupoints. The acupoints can also be stimulated by finger pressure, massaging tools, or more advanced equipment that generate sound waves, light beams and electromagnetic waves.

In recent decades, clinical studies have confirmed the efficacy of acupuncture in various ailments. According to U.S. National Institutes of Health clinical studies, acupuncture is effective in treating the below conditions. It is also worth noting that acupuncture’s healing effects go beyond physical conditions as it also impacts our emotional health.

  • back or neck pain
  • osteoarthritis
  • headache and migraine
  • myofascial pain syndrome
  • sciatica
  • postoperative pain
  • cancer pain
  • irritable bowel syndrome
  • fibromyalgia
  • chronic prostatitis
  • seasonal allergies
  • urinary incontinence
  • asthma
  • depression
  • quitting smoking
  • infertility
  • carpal tunnel syndrome
  • hot flashes and more
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The Popularity of Acupuncture in the Modern World

TCM treatment is showing strong promise in the modern world too. As we gradually understand the importance of TCM and how acupuncture can help improve our health, the market for this form of treatment continues to grow. In addition to its popularity due to the well-known and leading acupuncture Hong Kong clinics like Balance Health, there is also a surge in the adoption of acupuncture for various diseases across the world.

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Acupuncture for Pain Management - Chronic Pain

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Pain is an enormous and prevalent problem that troubles people of all ages worldwide. The effectiveness of acupuncture for pain management has been strongly verified by large randomized controlled trials (RCTs) and meta-analyses and widely accepted by western medical practitioners and insurance companies.

Most patients may think of acupuncture when they experienced an acute pain or tissue injury like ankle sprain or tennis elbow. In recent years, more research findings suggested that acupuncture is also effective in treating and managing chronic pain. An article published in the Journal of Pain in 2018 concluded that acupuncture is effective for a number of chronic pain conditions. Most of the patients that took part in this study underwent 6-12 acupuncture sessions, and the positive treatment effects appeared to persist for at least 12 months after receiving acupuncture.

Most types of chronic pain, including arthritis pain, neurogenic pain, migraine and pain related to cancer or cancer treatments are not easy to be completely eliminated. The most common analgesics prescribed to outpatients are opioids and nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs). Although these drugs are found to be effective in reducing pain, they also have side effects and in some cases, their long-term use can lead to physiologic tolerance and addiction. In recent years, more patients suffering from chronic pain turn to alternative medicine or non-pharmacological treatments like acupuncture to manage their pain, maintain their physical function/mobility and improve their quality of life.

Chronic pain is physically and psychologically stressful and its constant discomfort can lead to emotional disturbance which may greatly compromise the living quality of patients and their loved ones. Apart from its analgesic effects, acupuncture based on TCM theory could also help the patient to release stress, and maintain better emotional balance.

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Chinese medicine views the menstrual cycle as a vital sign for women’s health. For thousands of years, herbal medicine and acupuncture have been used to regulate and maintain women’s healthy menstrual cycle. Herbal medicine is mainly used to enhance and regulate the visceral energy and blood, while acupuncture is used to regulate the qi and blood flow.

Recent research suggests that acupuncture could also affect the balance of sex hormones. The causes of most gynecological disorders, reproductive dysfunctions, such as polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS), dysmenorrhea, and menopausal syndromes are all recognized as closely related to the hormone imbalances. Another study conducted by the U.S. National Institutes of Health found the effectiveness of menstrual health by addressing PCOS. A related NIH study found that acupuncture use for PCOS improves the functionality of the metabolic and endocrine systems, thus offering beneficial effects on ovulation.

Infertility is one of the heartbreaking problems that many couples face nowadays. However, acupuncture can help. There are seven benefits of acupuncture for fertility as intrauterine insemination support that patients can get. Acupuncture benefits are also improved if it is done along with Chinese herbal formulas as they work well to improve follicle count and quality.

Based on thousands of years of clinical records, acupuncture can effectively help to restore a regular cycle among women who have irregular menstrual cycle (metrorrhagia or oligomenorrhea) or when the cycle is absent (amenorrhea). Regulating the menstrual cycle is also of benefit to women who suffer from PCOS (polycystic ovarian syndrome) and irregular ovulation. As acupuncture could regulate the qi and blood flow, it is an important modality in TCM used to remove blockage and blood clot. In actual clinical practice, acupuncture is commonly used to treat conditions like endometriosis and uterine fibroids.

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Acupuncture for Insomnia, Anxiety and Stress Relief

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Modern life poses a lot of new challenges to our physical and psychological well being. Among which, sleeping disorders are probably one of the most discussed challenges. It is estimated that around 33% of adult patients in developed countries now suffer from chronic insomnia.

Can acupuncture help you sleep? A meta-analysis published in the May 2022 issue of Sleep Medicine suggests that “with a moderate to low certainty of evidence, multiple acupuncture therapies showed impressive insomnia improvement.” Other studies further suggest that acupuncture is promising in treating insomnia in certain vulnerable groups like patients suffering from Parkinson disease or women post menopause.

Sleep is important to several brain and body functions engaged in processing daily events and regulating emotions and behaviors. Sleep helps maintain cognitive skills, such as attention, learning and memory skills. Poor sleep can make it harder to cope with even relatively minor stressors. Hence, insomnia and stress can form a vicious cycle, letting the person become more emotionally vulnerable.

Acupuncture is effective in helping us better manage our anxiety and stress levels and decreasing our chances of suffering heart related conditions. In a National Institutes of Health study, researchers found a decrease in the low-frequency–to–high-frequency (LF/HF) ratio of participants' HRV which would show a significant decrease in patients' physiological stress.

Meanwhile, acupuncture also helps treat patients who are suffering from depression. A review of 64 clinical studies participated by 7,104 patients found the effectiveness of acupuncture for depression as shown by the moderate reduction in depression severity as compared to usual or common treatments or interventions.

Acupuncture for Beauty

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Isn’t it amazing that acupuncture can also help you look better? As a growing industry of facial acupuncture in the world, more and more people started to be interested in this natural, holistic and non-invasive facial treatment. There are more celebrities such as Angelina Jolie, Gwyneth Paltrow and Jennifer Aniston who have switched from botox to facial acupuncture as their facial maintenance option.

Facial acupuncture works by stimulating the lymphatic and circulatory systems. These systems play an important role in delivering oxygen and nutrients to the skin. They help nourish your skin inside out. It keeps the skin healthy; your complexion will be more evened out, which helps promote the glow of your skin. Another benefit from this Traditional Chinese Medicine technique is the stimulation of collagen production, which is important to minimize wrinkles and fine lines on the skin.

Instead of opting for surgery to remove wrinkles or make the skin look younger, facial acupuncture is a better and safer option. Like other treatments, this method is not a quick fix but it has long-term results. A systematic review study which included 216 participants reported positive results in at least one of the following areas: squares and counts of wrinkles, facial blood circulation, facial size reduction and improvement of skin condition, anti-aging and water and oil content of facial skin.

Beauty inside out

Chinese medicine practitioners believe that facial acupuncture is the key to taking care of the inner demands of the body. The use of fine needles on the face that are thinner than normal acupuncture can stimulate and connect to the acupuncture point and start affecting the regions inside our body that needs to be taken care of. This fine-tuning process may not be noticed with specific feelings, but the stimulation would invisibly adjust the imbalance from different layers.

First, the most superficial one is the skin. Acupuncture can increase blood and Qi circulation to enhance the metabolism of the skin. Second, the stimulus of the needle would increase the muscle elasticity by reaching the muscle layer. The innermost layer is the meridian, the channel for the transportation of healthy molecules from the digestive system to each part of the body.

Frequently Asked Questions on Acupuncture

It depends on how you define “healthy”. Modern city life poses lots of challenges to our life and can easily throw us off our natural balance. Many people may not have abnormalities in their lab tests or other medical examination reports, but they still feel their health condition is sub-optimal. For example, always feeling tired even after sleeping enough; hands and feet are cold and it is easy to get a cold etc. These ailments are the signs that your body has some imbalances. From a TCM point of view, these suboptimal conditions (亚健康状态) can be corrected by regulating the qi and blood in the body and enhancing the visceral function. This is where acupuncture can be helpful.
There is practically no age limit for patients. For younger kids under 2 years old, TCM massage (instead of needle) will normally be used on the acupoints and meridian to achieve the same treatment effect.

Pregnant women or women in their menstrual periods can also be treated using special precautions in the choice of points. It is important for the patient to communicate with the practitioner on their conditions before the acupuncture sessions

Our Chinese medicine practitioners will check the patient’s conditions and medical history before conducting the session. Special caution will be paid to those who have bleeding tendency or clotting disorder, immuno-suppression, epilepsy, acute infections or skin diseases.

As a word of guidance, qualified acupuncturists can make sure whether acupuncture is the right treatment for your individual condition. Instead of recommending or denying it for certain conditions in general, it is a case-to-case basis. This means it is important to openly tell the acupuncturist about any issues you have so the practitioner can treat you optimally.
First, you will have a consultation with our Chinese medicine practitioner to assess your health conditions. Based on the diagnosis, a treatment plan will be developed and discussed. In some cases, other treatment modalities (e.g. cupping, moxibustion, and herbal medicine) will be used in conjunction with the acupuncture treatment.

The needles are usually left in place for between 10 to 30 minutes, depending on the conditions being treated. In most cases, both the anterior and posterior side will be treated. The removal of the needles usually causes no discomfort and only rarely is there any very minor bleeding from an insertion point. The inserted needle may also be stimulated manually or using an electric pulse in various frequencies and intensities to achieve a particular effect. All the procedures will be discussed with the patient in advance and can be adjusted according to the patient’s reaction to the actual manipulation to minimize the unnecessary discomfort.
Most people find acupuncture a pleasant and deeply relaxing experience. Patients may feel a tingling sensation during the needle insertion. When the needle is in the body, some patients may feel heavy, throbbing or jumping at some particular acupoints or feel numbness at the point of insertion. These all denote the energy is moving. Some patients may even feel an energy transfer along the meridian to another part of the body. All these sensations may cause some discomfort to the patients, but normally are very transient.
The treatment will change the state of the energy of the body that affects the nerve, blood vessels, lymph vessels and muscles. With this, it is best to avoid heavy physical work or excessive excitement or stress (alcohol, tobacco and coffee) after a treatment at least for a day. It is also prudent not to have acupuncture on a full or empty stomach, and not to have a bath two hours after treatment. Avoid alcohol and food and drinks which alter the color of your tongue just before you have your treatment.

After acupuncture, you will feel relaxed or even slightly sleepy, so please take care not to tackle anything strenuous for a few hours following your treatment. It is also suggestable to drink 300-400 ml of warm water after the session.
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