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Acupuncture Articles

 

Clinical practice

Most modern acupuncturists use disposable stainless steel needles of fine diameter (0.007" to 0.020", 0.18mm to 0.51 mm), sterilized with ethylene oxide or by autoclave. The upper third of these needles is wound with a thicker wire (typically bronze), or covered in plastic, to stiffen the needle and provide a handle for the acupuncturist to grasp while inserting. The size and type of needle used, and the depth of insertion, depend on the acupuncture style being practiced.

Warming an acupuncture point, typically by moxibustion (the burning of mugwort), is a different treatment than acupuncture itself and is often, but not exclusively, used as a supplementing treatment. The Chinese term zhēn jǐu (針灸), commonly used to refer to acupuncture, comes from zhen meaning "needle", and jiu meaning "moxibustion". Moxibustion is still used in the 21st century to varying degrees among the schools of oriental medicine. For example, one well known technique is to insert the needle at the desired acupuncture point, attach dried mugwort to the external end of an acupuncture needle, and then ignite the mugwort. The mugwort will then smolder for several minutes (depending on the amount adhered to the needle) and conduct heat through the needle to the tissue surrounding the needle in the patient's body. Another common technique is to hold a large glowing stick of moxa over the needles. Moxa is also sometimes burned at the skin surface, usually by applying an ointment to the skin to protect from burns.

An example of acupuncture treatment

Acupuncture

In western medicine, vascular headaches (the kind that are accompanied by throbbing veins in the temples) are typically treated with analgesics such as aspirin and/or by the use of agents such as niacin that dilate the affected blood vessels in the scalp, but in acupuncture a common treatment for such headaches is to stimulate the sensitive points that are located roughly in the center of the webs between the thumbs and the palms of the patient, the hé gǔ points. These points are described by acupuncture theory as "targeting the face and head" and are considered to be the most important point when treating disorders affecting the face and head. The patient reclines, and the points on each hand are first sterilized with alcohol, and then thin, disposable needles are inserted to a depth of approximately 3-5 mm until a characteristic "twinge" is felt by the patient, often accompanied by a slight twitching of the muscle between the thumb and hand. Most patients report a pleasurable "tingling" sensation and feeling of relaxation while the needles are in place. The needles are retained for 15-20 minutes while the patient rests, and then are removed.

In the clinical practice of acupuncturists, patients frequently report one or more of certain kinds of sensation that are associated with this treatment, sensations that are stronger than those that would be felt by a patient not suffering from a vascular headache:

  1. Extreme sensitivity to pain at the points in the webs of the thumbs.
  2. In bad headaches, a feeling of nausea that persists for roughly the same period as the stimulation being administered to the webs of the thumbs.
  3. Simultaneous relief of the headache. (See Zhen Jiu Xue, p. 177f et passim.)

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