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What is acupuncture?

Acupuncture encompasses differing philosophies and techniques. Acupuncture is the stimulation of special points on the body, usually by insertion of fine needles. How the points to be treated are selected depends on the teaching and background of the practitioner. At one end of the spectrum is the Traditional Chinese Medicine acupuncturist, who operates from a theoretical paradigm different to Western Conventional Medicine. Traditional Chinese Medicine includes the use of acupuncture, herbs, massage and dietary approaches. It has a belief in a vital force or ‘Chi’. Disease results from imbalance of this ‘energy’. The body has a number of ‘energy’ channels or meridians on which lie the acupuncture points. Traditional acupuncture theory sees illness in terms of excess or deficiencies in various exogenous and endogenous factors and treatment is aimed at restoring balance. At the other end of the spectrum is the ‘Scientific’ or Western acupuncturist, who has divorced the Chinese theoretical basis of acupuncture and instead uses a set of acupuncture points to treat a variety of conditions empirically.

Auriculo-acupuncture, i.e. acupuncture of the ears, although known to the Chinese, is a relatively new development advanced by Western doctors. Following insertion of needles at acupuncture points, further stimulation of the points can be achieved by: manual stimulation of the needle by rotation, application of heat to the needle by burning the herb artemisia vulgaris over the needle (moxibustion) or by applying an electric current to a pair of needles (electro-acupuncture). Electro-acupuncture is a modern development, which the Chinese also use. Other developments include the use of lasers to stimulate acupuncture points.

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