Pain and Acupuncture in Eastern and Western Medicine
Acupuncture is an ancient medicinal art that has been practiced for thousands of years. Acupuncture today is mainly seen by Western medicine as a "new alternative" medicine (2). This basically means that while Western medicine acknowledges the value and positive medical research supporting acupuncture in many realms of medicine, for the most part it is not a practice that has been incorporated into 'modern' medical practices. One of the most consistently supported uses of acupuncture therapy is in pain treatment (14). Western medicine has often come up short when it comes to treatment of chronic pain. The dichotomy that is often suggested is that Western medicine is better at emergency situations and stabilizing patients in crisis, while Eastern medicine has more success with more long-term chronic issues such as pain (2). This difference mainly stems from the philosophy of both methods of practicing medicine. Eastern medicine, for the most part, is more interested in treating the whole person and finding the organic root of the problem instead of just treating the symptoms. While chronic pain is reaching epidemic proportions in Western society, few people are employing the benefits this type of medicine can bring. How does pain effect the nervous system? How does acupuncture help to alleviate this symptom? Is it possible to explain the effects of acupuncture through the language of Western medicine?
Acupuncture, very basically, is the insertion of very fine needles, sometimes in conjunction with electrical stimulus, on the body's surface, in order to influence physiological functioning of the body (1). At the basis of acupuncture, is the theory that the body has a constant energy force running through it. This energy force is known as Qi. The Qi consists of all essential life activities which include the spiritual, emotional, mental and the physical aspects of life (5). People who practice an receive acupuncture therapy believe that a person's health is influenced by the flow of Qi in the body. It is believed that energy constantly flows up and down pathways in the body called Meridians. When these pathways become obstructed, deficient, excessive, or just unbalanced, Yin and Yang (positive and negative energy in every person) are said to be thrown out of balance (4). This causes illness. Acupuncture is said to restore the balance (1).
Meridians are described as special pathways of energy. The Meridians, or channels, are the same on both sides of the body. The acupuncture points for each disorder are specific locations where the Meridians come to the surface of the skin, and are easily accessible by "needling." (6) (3). The method of acupuncture usually used for pain relief and prevention is electro-acupuncture, which funnels very small electrical impulses through the acupuncture needles (1). For anyone who knows something about pain perception, the concept of...