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Medical philosophies and techniques have their roots in the various cultures in which they originate. For example, the treatment of mental illness in western civilizations was impeded by the cultural belief that these disorders were the result of possession by demons and evil spirits. Beliefs in eastern civilizations have also influenced medical treatment. Chinese philosophy has produced the medical treatment known as acupuncture. Consisting of small needles being inserted into the body, this system is described by its practitioners and other advocates as a treatment capable of curing disease and relieving pain.
The Chinese philosophy of yin and yang are believed to be the two universal forces with regard to life. The human body suffers pain and illness when these life forces are not in balance. Acupuncture provides a method of restoring balance to the individual. Thus, when harmony returns to yin and yang, the patient is cured.
Two Theories of Why Acupuncture is Useful
Most reports indicate that acupuncture is especially useful in the treatment of pain and as an anesthesia. Some skeptics initially felt that acupuncture acted as a placebo. According to , there seems to be a theoretical and scientific basis that can offer an explanation with regard to how acupuncture works. This explanation involves one of two theories.
- The first is referred to as a system of sensory gates within the human body. An inserted needled stimulates a nerve causing it to “shut down.” The nerve then fails to carry sensory information regarding pain to the brain. In other words, this causes the sensation of pain to be blocked from consciousness. As a result, the individual no longer feels any pain. This pain-free state exists despite the fact that the person has needles inserted in his or her skin and that nothing else has been done to treat the source of the pain.
- The second theory of how acupuncture might work is based on the fact that often acupuncture produces the side effects of light-headedness and a sense of euphoria. Acupuncture may result in an over-stimulation of the pain responses leading to the production of endorphins. These hormones are similar to opiates, producing a “high” feeling that inhibits the sense of pain. This is support by research that demonstrates that when an individual is given medication that blocks the production of endorphin, he or she continues to feel the same amount of pain as felt prior to the procedure of acupuncture.
Acupuncture and MRIs
Recent advancements in magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) confirm that acupuncture relieves pain. A procedure known as functional MRI’s is able to display blood flow to various parts of the brain. Results of FMRI’s, while individuals are receiving acupuncture, indicate that decreased brain activity accompanied a decrease in pain.