Acupuncture is a therapy in which very fine needles are inserted into the skin at designated points chosen for their therapeutic effect. It originated in China, spreading to other parts of Asia and, eventually, the West. The earliest written record of its use goes back about 2500 years and it may be as much as 4000 years old.
Although introduced into Europe in the 17th century, the difficulties of communication and the alien nature of its underlying concepts have hampered its practice. It is only since the late 20th century with the free flow of people and ideas that came with globalisation that its practice has grown and found more widespread recognition and approval.
Some basic theory
It is not uncommon for people to be put off acupuncture because of the strange nature of its underlying concepts and the difficulty of fitting this with a western medical understanding of the body. I remember a medical doctor friend of mine telling me how she could see that acupuncture did work but found it incredibly frustrating that she couldn't understand how. Fortunately it isn't necessary to understand how it works in order to benefit from its effects and some recent research even suggests that those who are initially sceptical often respond better to treatment as the realisation that it is actually helping gives them a psychological boost1.
Central to an understanding of acupuncture are the channels along which acupuncture points lie. Each channel traverses the surface of the body as well as connecting with the interior. Points are often chosen because they affect another area of the channel. For example there is a channel that starts on the foot and runs up to the head, finishing by the eye. There is a point on this channel on the leg called GuangMing Bright and Clear which has a particularly strong effect on the eyes and which is used to moisten the eyes and improve eyesight.
A point may also be chosen because of the effect it has on the "Internal Organ" to which it is connected. Although most of the Organs of Chinese Medicine share their names with their western anatomical counterparts they encompass a much wider sphere of activity. In fact they are better thought of as groups of functions rather than anatomical entities. The entirerity of one's physical and mental functioning is divided up and associated with a particular "Organ" (a capital letter is often used to designate the Chinese Medical use of the term).
Sometimes the link between the Chinese Organ and the western organ is very obvious. For example the Stomach plays an important role in digestion (no surprise there). So a point on the Stomach Channel may be used to strengthen the digestive system. But in other situations the link may either seem very tenuous from a medical point of view or it may be to do with some kind of mental or emotional function that would never be associated with the anatomical organ. So to return to our orginal example of the point on the leg that affects the eye: the point Bright and Clear, as well as affecting physical vision, will also affect mental vision - ie. clarity of mind. So another situation in which that point might be used would be one where the patient is having difficulty perceiving a situation and in particular with making decisions.
I hope this brief introduction to some of the theory underlying acupuncture has given you some sense of what I do in my treatments. If you would like to find out more I recommend a number of books on the resource page.
1Thomas, K.J, MacPherson, H., Ratcliffe, J. et al. (2005) Longer term clinical and economic benefits of offering acupuncture care to patients with chronic low back pain. Health Technology Assessment, 9(32)