History and Theory

Acupuncture is an ancient system of treatment. It is part of the discipline of traditional Chinese medicine. This embraces many other forms of healing, quite apart from acupuncture, for example Chinese herbal medicine. Acupuncture is not, nor has it ever been, a complete system of medicine in its own right. It is, however, effective in may conditions which have often not responded to conventional approaches.

Acupunture's main use is in treating chronic and painful conditions such as arthritis, headaches and migraines. After dental caries (tooth decay) and the common cold, these are the most common afflictions of the human race. Its effectiveness has enabled acupuncture to survive against, at times, enormous odds. It was banned by law in China at the beginning of this century but continued to be practiced as folk medicine. Interest by Western doctors in acupuncture was stimulated by President Nixon's visit to China in 1972. Since that time medical interest in the subject has grown apace, underpinned by a number of important discoveries pointing to the effectiveness of Acupuncture.

The ancient Chinese hypothesised that energy circulated in the body via specific channels, which they called meridians. They considered that the balance and transmission of this energy from side to side, top to bottom and from the inside to the outside of the body was of great importance. They expressed this idea using their doctrine of Yin and Yang, which considers that everything is an amalgam of opposites (the opposites being called Yin or Yang). Yang was associated with activity, fire, the sunny side of a hill or the male principle and Yin was associated with physical substance, water, the dark side of the hill or the female principle. The balance between these two opposites was considered to be constantly fluctuating, in other words it was a dynamic balance. If one was out of balance, in an energetic sense, the principle of treatment would be to re-establish that balance.

The Chinese had an essentially vitalistic approach to the body and its physiology in keeping with many ancient systems of medicine. It is interesting to reflect that modern Western medicine is the only such system ever to have existed without a vitalistic approach to health and disease.

The Chinese developed a highly complex and sophisticated system of empirical laws based on countless observations of illness and response to treatment. These laws resulted in a number of ground rules aimed at guiding a doctor to the improvement of his patient's condition. The astonishing fact is that the application of these apparently odd-sounding laws do appear to work in a highly significant proportion of patients. It can clearly be surmised that if it did no work, acupuncture would not have been adopted within both Western and Eastern cultures to such a degree.

The Chinese believed that in addition to being in balance, the energy or life force (which the Chinese called chi) had to be able to circulate freely around the meridians. If a break occurred anywhere in this circulation, illness would result. An example is backache, which is viewed by the Chinese as a blockage in the "chi" circulating in the bladder meridian. The remedy was, put in the simplest terms, to insert a needle at the point of discomfort, thus encouraging flow to re-establish itself.

Each meridian refers to a particular organ, and the energy flowing through that meridian can be taken as indicating the functional state of that organ. Inserting a needle into a point on the liver meridian for instance could be expected to affect the function of the liver, the effect would depend on the actual point used and the state of the patient at the time of treatment.

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