Acupuncture has its origins dating back thousands of years. Although its roots have been claimed to have originated from Asia, the Far East, and even from Europe, the development and progress of the art must primarily be attributed to the Chinese. Acupuncture balances the energy flow (Qi) throughout the body which is essential for health. Disruptions of this flow can cause disease. Acupuncture therapy was rare in the United States until the visit of President Nixon to China in 1972. After Eastern healing methods were introduced to the West, the use of acupuncture has become widespread in the United States and Europe. During the past decade, the medical community has begun to embrace alternative treatments as many studies have shown acupuncture to be effective in treating pain, allergies, palliative care with cancer patients for nausea and weakness, and many types of chronic illnesses.
A study done by the National Institute of Health in 1997 showed acupuncture to be effective in adult postoperative and chemotherapy nausea and vomiting and in postoperative dental pain. In other situations such as headache, menstrual cramps, tennis elbow, fibromyalgia, myofascial pain, osteoarthritis, low back pain, and carpal tunnel syndrome, acupuncture was shown to help as adjunct treatment or as an acceptable alternative to be included in a comprehensive management program. The World Health Organization also lists a variety of medical conditions that may benefit from the use of acupuncture or moxibustion. Such applications include prevention and treatment of nausea and vomiting; treatment of pain and addictions to alcohol, tobacco, and other drugs; treatment of pulmonary problems such as asthma and bronchitis; and rehabilitation from neurological damage such as that caused by stroke.
Cupping is an ancient art found in many cultures to relieve pain. In fact, as early as the fourth century, the noted herbalist Ge Hong wrote about cupping in A Handbook of Prescriptions. Stagnation in the body is removed by bringing toxins to the surface to be released through the open pores. The increased blood flow into the area of cupping also allows the area to heal more quickly. Cupping has been found to affect the body up to four inches into the tissues, causing these tissues to release toxins, activate the lymphatic system, clear colon blockages, and help activate and clear the veins, arteries and capillaries. Cupping is also used to treat respiratory conditions such as bronchitis, asthma, and congestion; as well as arthritis; gastrointestinal disorders; and pain. It is also used to treat depression. Fleshy sites on the body, such as the back and stomach are the preferred sites for treatment. Cupping can cause some swelling and bruising on the skin. As the skin is pulled into the cup, the blood vessels at the surface of the skin expand which may result in small, circular bruises on the areas where the cups were applied. These bruises are usually painless, however, and disappear within a few days of treatment. Patients with inflamed or broken skin; cases of high fever or convulsions; and patients who bleed easily, are not suitable candidates for cupping. Pregnant women should not have cupping on their stomach or lower back.
Gua sha is a healing technique of traditional East Asian medicine. Sometimes called ‘coining, spooning or scraping’, Gua sha is defined as instrument-assisted unidirectional press-stroking of a lubricated area of the body surface to intentionally create transitory therapeutic petechiae called ‘sha’ representing extravasation of blood in the subcutis.
Modern research shows Gua sha produces an anti-inflammatory and immune protective effect that persists for days following a single Gua sha treatment. This accounts for its effect on pain, stiffness, fever, chill, cough, wheeze, nausea and vomiting etc., and why Gua sha is effective in acute and chronic internal organ disorders including liver inflammation in hepatitis.
Moxibustion is another ancient Chinese medicine technique which involves the burning of mugwort to facilitate healing. The Chinese character for acupuncture, translated literally, means "acupuncture-moxibustion. Moxibustion is used to strengthen the blood, stimulate the flow of qi, and maintain general health. The sensation that moxa produces is a pleasant heat that penetrates deep into the skin. In traditional Chinese medicine, moxibustion is used on people who have a cold or stagnant condition. The burning of moxa expels cold and warms the meridians, which leads to smoother flow of blood and qi. Moxibustion has successfully been used to turn breech babies into a normal head-down position prior to childbirth. A study published in JAMA in 1998 found that up to 75% of women suffering from breech presentations before childbirth had fetuses that rotated to the normal position after receiving moxibustion at an acupuncture point on the small toe. Mugwort, the herb which is used for moxibustion, also known as artemesia vulgaris or ai ye in Chinese, increases circulation to the pelvic area and uterus and stimulates menstruation It can also be used to help eliminate menstrual cramps. It is frequently used alongside acupuncture for conditions ranging from bronchial asthma to arthritis with amazing success. In moxibustion, the leaves of the Chinese herb mugwort are dried and then burned using one of several methods. The 'moxa stick' is the most common form in which moxibustion is used to promote healing. Here the dried mugwort is rolled up tightly and wrapped in paper forming a cigar-like stick. It is then waved over the area to be warmed for a few minutes.