Acupuncture: Holistic, scientific or both?

February 27, 2020 Providence Body & Mind Team

Blending Eastern and Western philosophies with acupuncture

Age-old practice uses thin needles placed strategically to promote balance and good health.

  • Acupuncture improves circulation, lowers blood pressure and helps reduce your body’s response to stress.
  • Eastern philosophy emphasizes acupuncture’s ability to unblock and balance your life energy.
  • Western philosophy is more science-based with a focus on improved blood flow, hormonal balance and stress management.

[4 MIN READ]

Acupuncture. It’s been around for thousands of years and millions of people consider it a standard medical treatment. But what do you really know about this age-old practice?

We talked to Dayne Grove, N.D., LAc, a licensed naturopathic doctor and acupuncturist at Providence Mission Hospital Wellness Corner, who answered our questions and shared his insights into how this ancient practice can be an effective component of advanced care.

What is acupuncture?

Acupuncture is a technique in which your provider inserts very thin needles into specific points of your body to address health issues like pain, heart disease or autoimmune disorders. It’s one of the foundations of traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) which includes:

“Acupuncture is part of a larger treatment plan,” said Dr. Grove. “It’s not the primary method, it’s just the one that’s the most glittery, for lack of a better word. It’s a piece of a bigger picture.”

How does acupuncture work?

The explanation for acupuncture’s effectiveness depends on who you ask. Different cultures view the treatment differently, according to Dr. Grove. “Westerners think things go A+B=C. Their thought processes are linear and based primarily on cause and effect logic. In the East, everything is connected in synchronicity – the ideas that events are meaningful coincidences – and care is more holistic,” he said.

East vs. West

Eastern philosophy believes you have an invisible life force called qi (pronounced chee). The qi flows through pathways, known as meridians, throughout your body. It’s made up of a combination of Yin and Yang—inseparable opposites like light and dark or heaven and earth. 

When the balance is off between the Yin and the Yang, illness can result. Inserting needles into different points along the meridians restores the balance and allows your qi to flow easily.

“Balance is what creates an optimal circumstance from an Eastern perspective,” said Dr. Grove.

Western philosophy explains the benefits of acupuncture with more science-based logic. Acupuncture is seen as a way to stimulate nerves, connective tissue and muscles to increase blood flow and balance the nervous system.

Even within the different philosophies there are different types of acupuncture:

  • Chinese style is the most common form. The provider may twirl or turn the needles slightly. Heat or electrical stimulation may be applied.
  • Japanese style uses thinner needles. The needles are not moved once they’ve been placed in the proper position and you should not feel their presence during your treatment.
  • Korean style focuses on placing needles in acupoints in only your feet and hands.
  • Dry needling targets trigger points in knotted muscle or tissue to relax the area and relieve pain.

What conditions and illnesses does acupuncture treat?

Acupuncture may be used with a wide range of conditions for a comprehensive approach to care that’s designed to improve balance and wellness.

Pain

Millions of people turn to acupuncture for relief for everything from nerve pain, headaches, back or neck pain, arthritis, fibromyalgia or menstrual cramps. Science backs their choice. Research shows acupuncture is an effective, drug-free treatment with long-lasting effects on chronic pain. The process may increase blood flow and release endorphins—natural pain killers—and other chemicals in your brain that affect mood. Or it could unblock an imbalance in your qi. Advocates aren’t sure exactly why it works, they just know it does.

Autoimmune disease

Autoimmune disorders affect millions of Americans who live with Rheumatoid arthritis, thyroid disease, multiple sclerosis, lupus and other conditions that occur when your body’s immune system attacks its healthy tissue. Acupuncture brings relief by reducing inflammation and pain. The process causes a reaction in the pituitary gland, certain areas of the brain and nerve cells. In response, your body releases hormones, endorphins, brain chemicals and proteins to stabilize your blood pressure, immune system and body temperature.

Heart disease

Let’s be clear. No one is suggesting you use acupuncture to treat a heart attack or as the sole form of care for heart disease. It can, however, be an effective part of a comprehensive plan that pairs it with conventional, evidence-based care.

Acupuncture improves circulation, lowers blood pressure and helps reduce your body's response to stress. It promotes balanced blood sugar and counterbalances your fight or flight response during times of emotional or physical unrest. Multiple studies have shown it to be an effective tool in the battle against heart disease.

Is acupuncture safe?

Acupuncture is considered safe for most people if they have a competent, certified practitioner who uses sterile needles. If treatment is delivered using a non-sterile needle or incorrect placement, complications like infection, collapsed lung and injury to the central nervous system may result.

You should avoid acupuncture if you:

  • Have a bleeding disorder
  • Are taking coumadin or other blood thinners
  • Have poor stress tolerance
  • Are pregnant
  • Have a pacemaker

Do not use acupuncture as a substitute for conventional healthcare or treatment without talking to your doctor first.

What should I expect during treatment?

Typically, you will lie on a comfortable table while your acupuncturist inserts disposable, stainless steel needles about the thickness of a human hair into various points of your body.

Imbalances in physical, emotional and spiritual health lead to a decrease in energy levels and our ability to connect with ourselves and our surroundings,” said Dr. Grove. “Acupuncture is really good at restoring that balance.”

Treatment has three steps:

  • Insertion—between five and 20 needles are placed at different depths at strategic points of your body.
  • Manipulation—your provider may slowly twirl or gently move the needles. Heat or mild electrical impulses may be added.
  • Removal—the needles stay in place for 10 to 20 minutes while you remain still and relax.

Complications and side effects are rare following treatment. In some cases, you may experience slight soreness and pain or a temporary feeling of fatigue during or after treatment.

“Good health gives us the energy to connect with our environment, our community and ourselves. Imbalances in physical, emotional and spiritual health lead to a decrease in energy levels and our ability to connect with ourselves and our surroundings,” said Dr. Grove. “Acupuncture is really good at restoring that balance.”

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Find a doctor

Find a doctor that understands complementary and alternative medicine to provide comprehensive, holistic care like acupuncture using our provider directory. Or you can search for a primary care doctor in your area.

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Has #acupuncture helped you manage illness or pain? Share your experiences with #acupuncture with readers at @psjh.

Related resources

What is Integrative Medicine?

5 drug-free ways to find relief from pain

Acupressure Helps with Depression, Sleep After Breast Cancer Treatment

This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your healthcare professional’s instructions.

 

About the Author

The Providence Body & Mind Team is dedicated to providing medically-sound, data-backed insights and advice on how to reach and maintain your optimal health through a mixture of exercise, mindfulness, preventative care and healthy living in general.

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