Acupuncture is a technique of inserting and manipulating filiform needles into "acupuncture points" on the body with the aim of restoring health and well-being, e.g. treating pain and diseases.
Thought to have originated in China, it is most commonly associated with Traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) with different types practiced and taught throughout the world (Classical Chinese, Japanese, Tibetan and Korean).
Scientist and researchers using the protocols of evidence-based medicine have found good evidence that it is moderately effective in treating nausea and chronic low back pain, and moderate evidence of success for neck pain and headache.
While little is known about the mechanisms behind how the treatments work, a review of neuroimaging research suggests that specific targeted points have distinct effects on cerebral activity in specific areas that are not otherwise predictable anatomically.
There is general agreement that the procedure is safe when administered by well-trained practitioners, and that further research is warranted.
Though occasionally charged as pseudoscience, Dr. William F. Williams, author of "Encyclopedia of Pseudoscience" stated, "That once rejected as 'oriental fakery'-it is now (if grudgingly) recognized as engaged in something quite real."
Traditional Chinese medicine evolved over many thousands of years and although based on empirical observation, predates use of the modern scientific method, receiving various criticisms.
As the National Institutes of Health (NIH) consensus statement noted: "Despite considerable efforts to understand the anatomy and physiology of the "points or meridians", the definition and characterization of these target spots remains controversial.
Acupuncture treats the human body as a whole that involves several "systems of function" that are in some cases loosely associated with (but not identified on a one-to-one basis with) physical organs.
Chinese medical theory holds that it works by normalizing the free flow of "vital energy", blood and body fluids throughout the body.
Various criticisms based on scientific reductionist thinking have surfaced since there is no physically verifiable anatomical or histological basis for the existence of points or medians.
Most modern acupuncturists use disposable stainless steel needles of fine diameter (.007" to .02", 18mm to .51mm), sterilized with ethylene oxide or by autoclave.
Most patients report a pleasurable "tingling" sensation and feeling of relaxation while the needles are in place. The needles are retained for 15-20 minutes while the patient rests, and then they are removed.
Warming a point or meridian prior and while the needles are in place, typically by moxibustion (the burning of a combination of herbs, primarily Mugwort), is a different treatment altogether and is often used as a supplemental treatment.
Acupuncture is becoming accepted by the general public and doctors with over fifteen million Americans trying the procedure in 1994. A poll of American doctors in 2005 showed that 60% believe it to be at least somewhat effective, with the percentage increasing to 75% if considered as a complementary treatment.
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