Western acupuncture is an adaptation of Chinese acupuncture using the current knowledge of anatomy, physiology, pathology, and the principles of evidence based medicine, rather than the traditional Chinese concepts of correcting imbalances in Yin/Yang and circulation of qi.
Western Acupuncturists regard acupuncture as complementary to conventional medicine rather than a complete ‘‘alternative medical system’’.
Western Acupuncturists base their therapy primarily on the effects acupuncture has on the nervous system. Acupuncture acts mainly by stimulating the nervous system, and its known modes of action include local antidromic axon reflexes, segmental and extrasegmental neuromodulation, and other central nervous system effects. For example, it has been shown to increase the body's release of natural painkillers, endorphins and serotonin, in the pain pathways of both the spinal cord and the brain. This modifies how pain signals are received and perceived in the brain. By altering the position of the needles and the type of stimulus applied, acupuncture has been shown to have different effects on the nervous system and therefore on different systems within the body.
Western acupuncture treatment involves inserting very fine needles (ie 0.16mm diameter) through the skin, leaving them in position for anything from a few seconds up to 30 minutes. Sometimes manual or low voltage electrical stimulation is applied to assist the process.
Western Acupuncturists consider acupuncture to be a dose-related therapy. Just like starting a new medicine, a physician will start with a low dose and build this up if necessary, so it is with Western acupuncture. In the case of acupuncture, the 'dose' of acupuncture equates to the sum of the number of sites used, the degree of the stimulus applied (ranging from simple insertion up to gentle electro-acupuncture) and the duration of the therapy.
Many individuals are actually very sensitive to acupuncture (known as strong or very strong responders) and for them, less is more. Hence the importance of building up the 'dose' of therapy in an individual who has not experienced acupuncture before. Consequently, the number of needles may be as few as only two or three and they may be left in for only a few seconds. The practitioner assesses each patient’s case individually and each treatment is tailored individually.
Treatment is usually not more than once or twice a week at most, depending upon how the condition responds. A typical course of treatment lasts 5 to 8 sessions. Patients may then find their condition is then well controlled with occasional 'top-up' treatments.
Acupuncture - past, present and future
Acupuncture-like techniques are thought to have been in use for over 5000 years, as evidence from the study of Ötzi the Iceman has revealed.
The best known system of acupuncture was developed in the Far East around 2000 years ago. This was first introduced into Europe in the 17th Century, but widespread interest in acupuncture did not develop until the political events of the early 1970s allowed significant easing of the travel restrictions between the East and the West.
Following huge public interest in the subject, considerable scientific research into acupuncture has been carried out over the last thirty years. Much more is now known about how acupuncture works, leading to significantly increased and varied possibilities of using it alongside conventional medicine.