Health is an integral part of the Human Development Index published by the United Nations Development Program and is one of the three main parameters which gives meaning to the existence of human life.
Health is an umbrella term, which includes an individual’s social, mental, physical, emotional well-being, as per WHO. When I would treat a patient, i used to feel restricted because apart from treating the physical pain, the patient would often continue to feel uneasy and could not get back to his original routine. This prompted me to explore a more comprehensive/ integrated approach to human diagnosis and treatment.
When we travel back in time before the advent of modern medicine, we realize that civilizations had their own way of diagnosing a condition and treating it. One such ancient method is acupuncture.
Acupuncture is a part of Chinese medicine, and dates back 5,000 years. To the uninitiated, it is a treatment by inserting needles. The unversed may question, “How can you treat disease by inserting needles?”, “Is it a form of quackery?” Or “Is it just psychological”?
Acupuncture is a detailed science with a written descriptive script, “Huang di neijing” tracing its origin to the start of the Christian era, approximately 2 B.C. It is interesting to learn how the acupuncture points were discovered. During a battle, many soldiers were hit by arrows and while treating them, the physician discovered that at certain points where the arrows had pierced, the soldiers were stable and recovered well. By identifying the points and tracing the pattern, he was able to plot a proper flow chart of points – the first step towards development of acupuncture science.
What are these acupuncture points? Acupuncture points are areas on the body with low electrical impedance – a mode of communication of the body with the external. According to acupuncture, our body is a closed system of energy flow chains called meridians which carry our internal energy in a predetermined direction and path. Acupuncture points are places on these meridians through which one can manipulate the energy. It is an interconnected system from head to toe. E.g.:- to treat a migraine disorder, we often choose a point near the web space of the foot.
Now, if the energy flow is in a predetermined direction and path, what causes a disturbance in the flow of energy? Is that a cause of disease? This is where conventional medicine and modern medicine differ. All the conventional sciences acknowledge the existence of energy system or flow which is called ‘QI’ in Acupuncture, Prana in Ayurveda, etc., whereas modern medicine though recognizes energy systems, does not have a formal place in treatment or diagnosis.
Allopathy usually enlists symptoms like headache and treats them by objectively giving a medicine which would reduce the symptom severity (symptom reduction). In acupuncture, a practitioner does not stop at the symptom but asks many questions related to food, sleep, eating habits to determine whether the energy system is excess / deficient and then treat to balance the system (cause reduction).
Acupuncture believes that a body flow is affected by various internal factors and environment. Internal factors include but are not limited to emotions, dietary habits, pre-existing behavioural changes, body tendency / susceptibility towards particular objects.
E.g.:- It is well-known that anger raises blood pressure, but the mechanism behind this is not known. According to the five-element theory, anger is related to the Liver Meridian. When one is angry, the Liver Meridian stirs up and heat enters the meridian. This meridian is also related to the blood system and eyes; hence, an angry person has red eyes and high blood pressure. Similarly, grief can affect the Spleen Meridian, often causing people to have improper stomach issues. Fear (of exams) can particularly affect the kidney system, making the individual visit the washroom frequently.
Seasons, weather, environmental conditions also affect the individual meridian system, causing a change in the body balance. These external factors enter the body through the acupuncture points and are in a constant state of connectivity. The moment their intensity increases due to change, or the body defence system weakens, they enter the body and target specific organ system.
E.g.:- Eating pani puri in the rainy season usually leads to stomach infections, the culprit is the damp weather (and not water used in the roadside pani puri) which affects the Stomach Meridian causing the stomach infection.
Acupuncture is not a pseudo-science. It has its own methods or ways of diagnosis and treatment. Can it treat each and every disease on the planet? The answer to the first question is NO. Like all other medical sciences, acupuncture has its own limitations. It has its own theory of cause of disease and other methods of treatment, but it cannot treat all disorders. The conditions which it can treat most successfully are pain and paralysis, because pain occurs when there is stagnation of energy within the meridians. By inserting needles at painful points, the energy blockage is removed and the flow within the meridians is restored. The same principle applies in paralytic patients. In my experience, treating such patients right at the onset of symptoms is critical to get near 100% results.
Treatment of various lifestyle disorders such as hypertension, diabetes mellitus, hypothyroidism and chronic disorders like rheumatoid arthritis have been treated very effectively with acupuncture. In my decade plus clinical practice, we have seen several chronically ill or bedridden patients getting medically stable and better, after a mix of allopathy and acupuncture.
In chronic patients, typically multiple meridian systems are affected and since acupuncture targets the root cause, it may take a little longer to get better. The WHO also recommends acupuncture as a mode of treatment or treatment adjuvant in various disorders.
Eg:- many patients undergoing chemotherapy experience symptoms like nausea, vomiting, pain, weakness. They are unable to take any medication for this; acupuncture brings relief to these patients.
Cosmetic or facial acupuncture is also a part of Acupuncture Wellness program in many developed countries. Acupuncture on the face and head improves skin tone, texture and has an anti-aging effect. In some countries, they name it as a ‘Natural Botox’.
In my experience, people are scared because of’ the fear of the unknown factor’, once they realise the benefits, they actually start liking it. So why is it not available everywhere? The answer to this question is – it is a science which is subjective – for the same patient, different practitioners can diagnose the condition differently and treat it accordingly.
While modern medicine is also subjective, it is so only to a small extent as compared to conventional medicine. Hence, a doctor’s depth of knowledge and understanding play a critical role in acupuncture treatment. Finding a good practitioner becomes imperative. All the treatment sciences are equally potent and effective, but the best medical science is the one which works for YOU!
About: Mr. Dr. Varun Shanbhag,
Dr. Varun Shanbhag, BPTH DTCM Certified Physical Therapist and Medical Acupuncturist. He practices at Vile Parle and Andheri.
He can be contacted at : firstname.lastname@example.org
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