Medical Acupuncture

Medical acupuncture is acupuncture incorporated into the practice of traditional Western medicine and health delivery systems. It is derived from Asian and European sources, and is now being studied by Western trained physicians as a valuable adjunct in their treatment of many disorders and pain conditions. Dr. Joseph Helms is chairman of the physician acupuncture training programs of the Office of Continuing Medical Education at the UCLA School of Medicine and founding president of the American Academy of Medical Acupuncture. This article summarizes Dr. Helms’ comments in his article: An Overview of Medical Acupuncture published in the journal Alternative Therapies, May 1998. He has given personal permission to use his information.

The foundation of medical acupuncture is the therapeutic insertion of solid needles in various combinations and patterns. The choice of patterns can be based on traditional Chinese principles of encouraging the flow of energy, called qi (pronounced chee). Modern theories of recruiting neuroanatomical activities in segmental distributions can be used alone, or in combination with the more ancient theories of “energy” movement.

Acupuncture has evolved over 2000 years beginning prominently in China, with spread to the remainder of Asia and into Europe, as well. In the traditional Chinese model of health and disease, a patient’s harmony or disharmony with the larger order of the universe results in wellness or disease. Illnesses are described and defined by divisions of the yin and yang, by descriptors attached to elemental qualities, and the functional influences traditionally associated with each of the internal organs. The anatomy of acupuncture consists of energy channels traversing the body. These energy channels are multilayered and interconnecting and provide a means by which the patient’s internal and external environment may be linked.

Acupuncture analgesia which came to the fore in the late 1970’s helped move acupuncture into the modern era, and into the minds of modern man. Acupuncture analgesia has been demonstrated to activate the endogenous(native) opioid peptide system and thereby influence the body’s pain regulatory system. Two systems of analgesia have been described: an endorphin-dependent system involving electrical stimulation of acupuncture needles; and a monoamine-dependent system involving higher frequency electrical stimulation. These models have suggested that stimulation by acupuncture needles may affect the nervous system(nerves), the blood circulation(dilation or constriction of blood vessels), the lymphatic system, and the electromagnetic bio-information inherent in the body.

In my practice, I use acupuncture mainly as an adjunct in the treatment of pain syndromes. It may be helpful in back pain syndromes, neck pain, shoulder pain or frozen shoulder, tendinitis and bursitis, myofascial pain and trigger points, and other conditions. I use acupuncture in conjunction with the principles and practice of traditional Western medicine in the management of rheumatic conditions. A full history and physical examination if performed. Appropriate radiographic and laboratory testing is obtained and a diagnosis made. Treatment options are then discussed with the patient, and if I believe acupuncture is a valid option, I will offer it. I may use acupuncture in addition to medications or other therapeutic maneuvers if I believe such is in the best interest of the patient.

Medicare does not cover the cost of acupuncture treatment. Some insurances may cover the cost, especially if performed by a physician.

Authored by: Carolyn Smith, M.D.

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