Acupuncture as an Alternative Medicine in the Western Culture

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Debora Cytrynowicz

Acupuncture as an Alternative Medicine

( in the Western Culture)

Alternative medicine is a very general term whose definition can be very controversial. Basically, it is many holistic techniques for preventing and treating illnesses. Acupuncture, and many other therapies, have long been a part of Asian cultures and have recently been integrated into the Western culture. Since Acupuncture is such an important tradition in China, it has gained much respect from other cultures.

Acupuncture is a strong component in China, and can be traced to their health care system for at least 2,500 years.

The procedure involves inserting hair-thin steel surgical needles into specific points in the body which are supposed to make you feel better, and be healthier. This is only the technical aspect though. To understand the "art" of this procedure, you must have a background on Chinese medicine. How it works is this: health is achieved though the balance of the opposing forces between "yin" (spirit), and "yang" (blood). The attraction between them creates an energy called "Qi" ( pronounced chee). This energy flows to all parts of the body through channels which are known as "meridians" (pathways that run along the surface of the body and branch into the body's interior). An imbalance in these forces is what is believed to cause illness and disease. When needles are placed on the acupuncture points along the meridians, balance, and hence, health is restored. There are several styles of acupuncture, the differences being how the acupuncture points are stimulated (be it by hand pressure, electrical impulse, ultrasound, or wavelengths of light).

Acupuncture was introduced to American doctors by Sir William Osler, who is often called the father of modern medicine. In a classic medical textbook written more than a century ago, he said, "For lumbago, acupuncture is, in acute cases, the most efficient treatment." The first time acupuncture really got notice wasn't until 1972. James Reston, a New York Times correspondent, was assigned to cover President Nixon's now historic trip to China. During his stay, Reston had to have an emergency appendectomy, and was treated with acupuncture for the postoperative pain he had to endure. The report of his experience with acupuncture caught the interest of many American doctors who wanted to see how the Chinese used acupuncture as an anesthetic. Many non-physicians went to train overseas or with acupuncturists who had been silently practicing in the States, in many Asian communities. These people then fought to gain laws that would allow acupuncture to be practiced legally.

Still, the Western medical establishment is not totally convinced that any alternative medicines really work, therefore techniques such as acupuncture are not popular nor widely taught in medical school. They are also not generally available in hospitals. Alternative practitioners , in order to compromise and be more flexible on the issue of alternative medicine, use the term "complementary medicine." This shows a partnership between Western and Eastern-based options.

The World Health Organization (WHO), lists a variety of different medical conditions that can benefit from the use of acupuncture. This list includes prevention and treatment of nausea and vomiting ( also due to chemotherapy and pregnancy) ; treatment of pain; addictions to alcohol, tobacco , and other substances; treatment of pulmonary problems such as asthma and bronchitis; and rehabilitation from neurological damage, such as by a stroke. Other conditions commonly treated by acupuncture are: allergies; anxiety; depression; myofascial and low back/neck/shoulder/knee pain; musculoskeletal conditions (such as fibromyalgia); arthritis; osteoarthritis; bladder/kidney problems; postoperative pain and nausea; cough; gynecological disorders; headache; migraine; fatigue; high blood pressure; sexual dysfunction; stress; tension;...
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