October 1st, 2009

While it is a fairly new medicinal practice in the U.S., acupuncture has been used as a healing system across the world for thousands of years, especially in Eastern Asia.  According to Chinese medical theory, there is energy, known as the Chi, that constantly flows through our bodies making us healthy.

This energy circulates through 12 main channels, called meridians, which run above our vital organs. Usually the Chi flows easily through the meridians. But when we experience intense emotions–such as stress or anxiety–the Chi is blocked, leading us to experience pain.

According to Julie Petrarca, a practicing acupuncturist in Cleveland, “The goal of acupuncture is to find the imbalance being caused by a blockage and cure it.”

After a few sessions of acupuncture, the Chi returns to its normal level, and most of the pain goes away.

According to the World Health Organization, today acupuncture is used in the U.S. to treat a wide variety of physical problems, ranging from sinusitis to joint problems.

Jane Killian, a JCU senior, lived with chronic back and neck pain for almost 10 years. She tried all kinds of treatments–from pain medications to physical therapy– but the pain persisted. Then Killian’s doctor suggested that she try acupuncture.

“It’s not always that often that you get doctors confident in Western and Eastern medicine,” Killian said. “It was refreshing.”

Killian’s doctor used two common acupuncture techniques. The most frequently used method involves placing needles in specific areas, as opposed to directly on the painful region.

Acupuncturists believe that there are trigger points along the meridians that can be manipulated to relieve pain in other parts of the body. Thus, he placed several needles in her hand, wrist and ankle instead of placing them directly over the painful region.

Depending on whether you have too much or to little energy, hitting these trigger points drains or builds up the energy so that the imbalance is corrected.

Another commonly used technique of acupuncture involves placing 20 or so needles across the meridians.

As Killian’s doctor explained, this method is similar to throwing darts on a board and hoping that a few stick. The acupuncturist is then able to focus on releasing the pain in those specific areas.

“It sounds scary,” said Killian, “but actually you can’t feel anything.”

In fact, the needles used in acupuncture are only slightly thicker than a human hair.  They are very different than injection needles, and release no fluid into the body and take none out.

Acupuncture may be more attractive to students, as the stress of balancing schoolwork, a social life and being away from home can sometimes be hard to handle. Petrarca notes that while acupuncture cannot take away the situations that cause us to be stressed, it can help our bodies deal with the stress.

Acupuncture can decrease nervous tension, irritability, difficulty focusing and restless sleep: all symptoms of stress.