Who Knew that Acupuncture Can Come in Different Flavors

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What is acupuncture?

Acupuncture is a therapeutic tool that is part of the Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM). In the practice of acupuncture needles are inserted into the body via the skin at certain points, activating the meridians, or channels, that are responsible for balancing the energy flow inside the body.

It was discovered based on the knowledge that stimulating certain areas of the skin can have a positive effect on the body, and was mainly used for pain relief.

Acupuncture was founded based on the underlying philosophies and principles associated with Confucianism and Taoism. The main concept of acupuncture revolves around the ideology of “Qi”, which means the “flow of energy” in the body.

According to the U.S. National Library of Medicine, It is believed that healthy individuals have balanced Qi, and disorder or pain occurs when there is a disruption or blockage to the balance of Qi. In TCM, there are five elements of Qi: wood, water, fire, earth, and metal.

Acupuncture is believed to restore wellness by helping to re-balance the Qi by relieving any blockages in the meridians in the body.

It is thought to be essential to keep a balance between Yin and Yang, which represents the parasympathetic and sympathetic nervous systems respectively.

This is influenced by allowing the normal flow of Qi which is associated with neuronal transmission throughout the body and is key in restoring health to the mind and body as a whole.

Acupuncture is mostly deemed beneficial for long-term therapy for chronic pain, such as arthritis or headaches. Although acupuncture can also be very effective for short-term issues, such as injuries, especially if combined with other treatments.

Today, acupuncture can be used as a therapeutic measure, solely or in combination with other therapy, in a variety of conditions, including nausea, morning sickness, headaches, dental pain, menstrual cramps, depression, and even allergies.

Currently, millions of Americans receive acupuncture treatments every year. Even though acupuncture gained a lot of popularity over recent decades, not many people are aware of its history or the different styles of this therapy.

After reading this article, you will be able to differentiate between Chinese and Japanese acupuncture and distinguish their unique benefits.

What is the history behind acupuncture?

The practice of acupuncture first originated in China many centuries ago. Over the different eras, the practice of acupuncture took many turns from being popular and trusted to being shamed and discouraged, especially when Western medicine emerged and was influential.

When science progressed during the Han and Tang dynasties, acupuncture re-gained its place and trust in the medical community. The Japanese supported acupuncturists after the Tang Dynasty.

Acupuncture regained its popularity over the past few decades, and acupuncturists started receiving official training and degrees from learning institutions.

Acupuncture became popular in other parts of the world, including Europe and the United States, and was often combined with western medical treatment.

Even though acupuncture originated in China, the skill reached nearby cultures and countries quickly after the Tang Dynasty.

During the cultural exchange with China, brilliant scholars and monks traveled to Japan and thus brought with them many of their useful skills and tools, enriching the Japanese community.

What is the difference between Chinese and Japanese acupuncture?

The World Health Organization suggests that different acupuncture styles are based on certain theories or philosophical concepts, which identify them as distinct from other acupuncture approaches.

According to the U.S. National Library of Medicine, Each approach of acupuncture therapy it’s uniquely based on its characteristics and goals of treatment.

Both the Chinese and Japanese acupuncture methods rely on the same theory of Qi to re-balance the flow of energy within the body.

Chinese and Japanese acupuncture styles are different in approach and the tools used. There is a difference in the size of needles as well as in the depth of insertion and method of insertion.

The use of herbs is popular in the Chinese Acupuncture method, while the Japanese rely heavily on palpation steps before needles for japan.

The Chinese acupuncturists tend to manipulate the needle after insertion to activate the Qui flow to the meridians; therefore, can cause some pain and discomfort in that sense but they have noted that this is an essential part of the treatment as it can greatly affect the treatment results.

Moxibustion is commonly used along with acupuncture in the Japanese approach before needles are instead into the skin in preparation. Japanese acupuncturists also use tubes to help guide needle insertion, which makes it more comfortable and pain-free for the patient.

Moreover, in the Japanese approach, the needles are inserted more superficially than in the Chinese approach, about 1-5 mm compared to 1/2 or 1 inch in the Chinese approach.

Chinese acupuncturists use more a more focused approach to therapy and rely heavily on the guidance of the preset body map.

However, the Japanese acupuncturists emphasize treating the whole body as a whole at first and then focusing on the problem areas after carefully diagnosing the cause and balancing the body’s entire energy at first.

In Chinese acupuncture, it is considered a good sign if the patient feels mild numbness or radiating sensation or pain with needle insertion as it is believed that the treatment is effective.

What is unique about Chinese Acupuncture?

Chinese acupuncturists believe in the need to balance the flow of energy or Qi which flows through pathways called meridians in the body.

There are 12 meridians in total which conduct Qi between the surface of the body and its internal organs. Needles are therefore placed in points to help re-balance the energy flow and improve health or relieve pain.

Chinese acupuncturists will use solid and slightly thick needles, and they insert them into the skin no more than 1/2 inch to 1 inch.

The acupuncture treatment session can take anywhere from 30 to 60 minutes. Often several visits are needed to achieve sufficient results.

There is minimal pain with needle insertion but the pain can be higher with manipulation of the needle, which is common and deemed necessary at times for the treatment to be effective.

According to the National University of Health Sciences, research has also shown that the ability to feel the Qi sensation is very important and had a better outcome after treatment.

What is unique about Japanese Acupuncture?

Japanese acupuncture frequently includes the skill of moxibustion, which is the method of applying heat around the area of needle insertion, which is thought to increase the effectiveness of the acupuncture treatment.

Japanese acupuncture involves using thinner needles in comparison to Chinese acupuncture; therefore, the Japanese approach is known to reflect less or no pain at all during treatment.

The needle tube insertion method is also used as the tubes help guide the needle, which makes the process much easier and less painful.

The following video from YouTube is great at explaining in detail the Japanese acupuncture method

The video shows an interview with a Japanese acupuncturist who studied the practice of acupuncture in school and graduated with a degree.

The acupuncturist states that she had skills related to acupuncture since childhood when she noticed her ability to sense other humans’ inner state through simply touching them. She states she could sense the Qi energy flow through the body when she palpates parts of the human body.

The acupuncturist can feel where it is appropriate to insert the needle based on the palpation method; therefore, establishing the cycle of energy flow thru the needle he or she inserts.

The Japanese acupuncturists often note that most of their patients can sense their relaxed state transferred after palpation.

Interviewing the patient is a crucial part of Japanese acupuncture as the information obtained from the patient can greatly guide the treatment, deeming it more effective.

Patients share their social and medical history with their acupuncturists and often a psychological assessment is used as well to help evaluate the treatment goals.

In Japanese acupuncture, the needles are part of the treatment and not the main aspect. If the patient does not believe in the acupuncture method, it is thought that they will less likely benefit from the treatment.

In Japanese acupuncture, the emphasis is placed on skin-to-skin palpation, and gloves are deemed not appropriate as they cannot produce the effects of energy flow.

In Japanese acupuncture, it is believed that certain areas in the body need to be “freed” from trapped energy, which often causes disease or pain. This energy gets stuck in certain body parts and therefore results in muscle stiffens or sparseness.

Acupressure, Shiatsu, is also another technique that can help alleviate these sensations; however, acupuncture is deemed more effective.

Japanese acupuncturists believe in evaluating and treating the body as a whole rather than focusing on certain parts at first. They believe that acupuncture can help with depression, as when the body feels lighter, the depression or anxiety lessens.

It is recommended by the Japanese acupuncturists that patients undergo treatment about four times per year, in correlation with the four seasons, spring, summer, fall, and winter. Patients receiving treatments correlating with the present season seem to benefit most and experiment overall wellness.

For example, the wood element corresponds with liver health and is best given in the spring season, while the fire element is correlated with the heart. The earth element corresponds with the stomach health and is best treated in the summer season.

The metal element is related to the lungs’ health while the water element is related to the kidney’s health. Treating the whole body plays a major role in achieving satisfying Japanese acupuncture treatment outcomes.

The Japanese acupuncturist focuses on finding the source of the pain or ailment first before making a treatment plan.

If you get a treatment by a Japanese acupuncturist, you will note that they first check your pulse during the interview to assess your state of well being. They believe that all the organs in the human body affect each other and should be addressed altogether.

As medication-build up can affect the liver and kidney, it is thought that acupuncture can help detoxify the body from its negative effects.

Often, it is recommended that acupuncture is carried on while receiving other forms of pharmacological treatment if needed to amplify treatment and optimize the positive results.

According to the U.S. National Library of Medicine, After receiving acupuncture, patients often feel that they are tired and that is explained by the fact that the energy that was used to treat the body leaves it and that is why patients feel fatigued only for a few days and after that, they feel refreshed and their energy is revitalized.

Can Everyone Receive Acupuncture?

Acupuncture is generally safe for everyone; however, those with underlying medical conditions such as bleeding or clotting disorders should consult with their physician before receiving acupuncture.

Patients with blood thinners should also consult with their physician before acupuncture because they can experience bleeding or bruising at the needle sites.

Although acupuncture has been popularly used to help pregnant women with morning sickness, it is not recommended in certain cases because of reports that it may stimulate labor.

Are there any side effects of acupuncture?

Patients may experience more pain with Chinese Acupuncture, but in general, the side effects may include soreness, minor bleeding or bruising, and rarely infection. Acupuncturists practice safely by using sterile and disposable needles.

Bottom line

Acupuncture is a popular treatment that can offer beneficial results if used solely or in conjunction with other conventional treatments or therapies. It is mostly used for chronic pain, and significant research has been performed to determine its safety and efficacy.

As per the Individual Patient Data Meta-analysis study 2012, according to the authors, acupuncture is an effective form of treatment of chronic pain and was more effective than a placebo in a total of 17,922 patients who were analyzed from randomized-controlled trials.

According to the  American Medical Association, acupuncture has been determined superior to both no-acupuncture control and sham acupuncture in several studies.

Each patient can choose the best approach appropriate for their needs as both methods are deemed helpful in their unique ways.

If a patient has a fear of needles, then Japanese acupuncture may be more suitable. If the patient prefers the use of herbs, then the Chinese approach is the best option. In many cases, patients can try both methods and assess their benefits based on their own experiences.

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