In the past years, the field of medicine has greatly advanced. Most ailments known to people can be treated by use of simple medication advanced technology. Even with these great strides in the field of medicine, traditional medicine and medical techniques still play a vital role, especially in regions where access to health care is rather a luxury than a vital service.
One of the traditional medical techniques that are widely embraced in Asia and particularly in China is acupuncture. Acupuncture is a form of treatment used in both classical and traditional Chinese medicine. Acupuncture is based on the belief that there exist energetic channels (pathways) throughout the body that greatly influence the internal organs and structures. It is believed that energy from the channels is situated in various points on the body (Fei and Jianhua). An acupuncture point acts as an access medium to deeper circulatory channels. In many instances, extremely fine gauge needles are inserted at selected points into the body, stimulating these points and thus triggering the body’s natural healing abilities.
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Acupuncture has gained great popularity because it is a non-invasive treatment that provides solutions not only to physical, but also mental problems. Moreover, this therapy can be applied to help various people. It has been widely used by physicians, dentists, and other health practitioners as an alternative anesthesia. The key advantage of acupuncture is that if carried out by a registered and well-trained practitioner, it has no side effects. According to the National Health Institute, acupuncture has lower adverse effects compared to the prescribed medication and medical procedures.
Moreover, acupuncture is performed on people of all age groups; these include the elderly, adults, and children. In most instances, it rarely hurts. People with chronic diseases or fairly weak immune systems gain from acupuncture, as it boosts the immune system. In many instances, people have admitted getting relief from stress, insomnia, headache, back pain, and joint pain after a completion of an acupuncture session. Acupuncture has also resulted in an effective treatment of allergies, hypertension, hearing loss, migraine, asthma, infertility, osteoarthritis, and many other diseases (Patel). It is thus worth considering acupuncture as an alternative to numerous ailments.
Acupuncture is an ancient Chinese form of healing that precedes recorded history. The Taoist tradition forms the basis of this philosophy which dates well over 8000 years (Mann). Traditional Chinese medicine men explained acupuncture as a technique of obtaining the vital flow of energy or life otherwise called “qi” or “chi”, which they believed flowed through pathways in one’s body. In the early times, the Chinese believed that diseases were related to the vascular system, and thus the treatment of such ailments involved piercing oneself with sharp stones. Later, the concept of a disease causing agent was adopted. The Chinese believed the disease causing agent could lodge itself in the vessels and thus interfere with the flow in them. Traditional acupuncturists inserted needles in certain points on the body. They truly believed that this enabled the energy flow to balance. Needles were a later advancement. Bones and sharpened tools that dated about 6000 B.C. were used as an acupuncture instrument. During archaeological excavations in China, many types of silver and gold acupuncture needles were found in the tomb of Prince Liu Sheng who died in around 250 B.C. (Mann). This further asserts remarkable historical acupuncture attributes to the Chinese History.
It is important to note that acupuncture arose at the time when there was barely any understanding of modern biochemistry, physiology or healing mechanisms. If a person was sick and later treated with acupuncture, it was greatly assumed that the acupuncture treatment was the cause of the improvement. With no formal study of pathogens, diseases, and their natural history, it was impossible to prove whether the said patient would have improved without the acupuncture treatment or not. There was no clear criterion of establishing whether the treatment was a success or not. Therefore, the acupuncture treatment passed on from one generation to another untested.
Interest in acupuncture among the Chinese gradually declined. From the 17th century onwards, it was perceived by many as mere superstitions and an irrational technique. It was excluded from the Imperial Medical Institute through a decree by the Emperor in 1882. In the early 20th century, China increasingly started to embrace Western medicine, which was the final ignominy for acupuncture in 1929 when it was outlawed. When the communist regime took power in 1949, the traditional forms of medicine including acupuncture were reinstated (Fei and Jianhua).
Over the centuries, Chinese medicine has greatly evolved; new ideas have been incorporated and a new paradigm has been discussed. In China, a number of medical colleges which uphold Western medicine were opened in the mid-20th century. All these colleges had departments of acupuncture with courses spanning from three to five years (Fei and Jianhua). The establishment of more research centers and clinics resulted in a corresponding increase in scientific articles. In 1954, the Chinese Medical Association and traditional medicine merged, and acupuncture anesthesia was discovered in four years. Continuous experiment during the Cultural Revolution produced acupuncture loci on the ear, face, nose, and fingers. Deep drilling techniques, electrically operated needles, injections into acupuncture points, and the use of points previously forbidden aided in the coining of the term ‘New Chinese medicine’. In China, the first choice treatment for acute abdominal conditions is acupuncture, infusion, and herbal packs. Over the years, both Chinese students and teachers have embarked on undertaking both experimental and clinical research to verify whether acupuncture works or not. In Tianjin People’s Hospital, located in Hongqiao District, herbal paste, small willow splints, Tai Chi exercises, and acupuncture were used to reduce fracture healing time by 33% (Jin, Jin, and Jin). Numerous journals have thus been published over the years. Journals provided a great platform for the exchange of knowledge between various stakeholders in the field, which led to the increased popularization of acupuncture among the public.
With modern technology, traditional theories of acupuncture have faced major challenges in the US and the UK. The ancient concept of “qi” flowing meridians has been dismissed by most medical practitioners. The adoption of a more realistic neurological model is the reason behind this (Patel). Nevertheless, acupuncture has greatly influenced the field of medicine in China. Modern acupuncturists and practitioners have embarked on using modern clinical equipment, taking the pulse on both arms and inspection of the tongue as standard procedures. Unlike in the past, when traditional acupuncturists used unsterilized needles, modern acupuncturists have embarked on the use of disposable stainless steel needles of fine diameters.
In modern times, alternative means of stimulating the healing response at various body points are advocated, asserting that needling is not necessarily the only way. Previously, the main procedures for affecting acupuncture points were moxibustion (application of heat) and needling (Fei and Jianhua). Currently, there is an increased use of and reliance on electrical and laser stimulation. An alternative method used by acupuncture practitioners in China is acupressure, which is the application of finger pressure.
The Chinese government has continued to play a key role in the acupuncture development in China. It has increased funding of acupuncture departments. Acupuncture clinics are located all over the Chinese sub-continent. More Chinese are embarking on incorporating traditional treatment in Western treatment.
From the above, we can deduce that Chinese medicine has come of age. Acupuncture has played a vital role in the Chinese medicine development. It has evolved from the mere use of stones to the use of laser tech. The adoption of acupuncture in various parts of the world proves the success of this ageless technique. It is part of the rich Chinese culture that has surpassed time. Acupuncture has played a key role in Chinese medicine. The combination of acupuncture and other types of traditional medicine has yielded very positive results both in the past and today. The adoption of Western medicine has further complimented acupuncture. Studies on neurology and nerves have led to a better understanding of the human body. Acupuncture continues to play a credible role in the lives of the Chinese of all social strata. The integration of acupuncture into Western medicine has made it more accepted by both the Chinese and people of various nationalities globally. However, acupuncture is still subjected to criticism by many in the medical field. It is largely believed that acupuncture holds very little scientific basis, but it has played more of a helpful role than a harmful one in the Chinese medical field and other traditional medicines. With funding, more research has been undertaken and more investment has been made to improve equipment. Presently, acupuncture in China plays a vital part in their healthcare system.
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