Often used in conjunction with food and Chinese herbs, acupuncture is an alternative form of therapy that maintains or restores health through the improvement and balance of the flow of chi, which is the circulation of life giving energy in the body. A balanced and free chi circulation restores the proper function of organs, glands, vessels, muscles, and nerves.
How Does Acupuncture Help Treat IBS?
The World Health Organization and the US National Institutes of Health using different standards both have determined several different conditions that can be properly treated with acupuncture, including many that are associated directly with IBS:
Besides that, acupuncture is also seen as an effective way of alleviating stress, as well as a viable answer to associated problems that are usually considered to be triggers for the symptoms of IBS including:
-PMS or premenstrual syndrome
What is Acupuncture?
Similar to Qi Gong, Acupuncture is one of the ancient forms of Chinese traditional medicine. But unlike Qi Gong, acupuncture cannot be a self-directed therapy. This means that a person cannot administer the treatment on himself. Acupuncture is a form of treatment that can only be performed by a qualified acupuncturist to help balance the patient’s life energy or chi. The acupuncturist traditionally accomplishes this by means of super-thin needles that stimulate the areas where they are stuck. These areas are known as acupuncture points. Underneath these points lie meridians, pathways of energy where life energy travels and is delivered all over the body. The meridians can run just underneath the skin or deep within the skin. When a meridians is stimulated it helps regulate all mental and physical processes of the person, Acupuncture is the sedation or stimulation of meridians in order to balance the circulation of the chi in the body.
The theory of TCM or traditional Chinese medicine about acupuncture mirrors the belief that the body is a complex and holistic spiritual, emotional, physical, and mental system, balanced between illness and health in a never ending flow of vital energy. TCM believes that an imbalance in the flow of vital energy is considered to be the cause of disease. Along with food medicine and Chinese herbs, acupuncture restores health by enhancing and balancing the flow of chi as well as helping restore the normal function of the body organs, muscles glands, nerves , and vessels.
A course of acupuncture treatment can remove blockages forming in the meridians and boosting the circulation of chi through the use of pliable and very thin acupuncture needles, inserted at various depths depending on the needs of the patient. Before you consent to treatment, be sure to ascertain that your acupuncturist only uses single-use, disposable, and sterile needles to avoid the transmission of contagious disease like Hepatitis B or the risk of infection, at the puncture site.
The human body has over 2000 acupuncture points (acupoints) in the body and each of these points correspond to one or more specific organ or organ systems. There may be a feeling of heaviness, tingling warmth, aching, or even no sensation felt at all as the needles are stuck into the acupoints. An unusual or odd sensation is the kind of sensation (but not unpleasant) most often felt by patients when a needle is inserted. Depending on the patient’s needs, there may be one to twenty needles used on a single treatment. The needles may also be heated with a moxibustion stick and lit up herbs or twisted to enhance the stimulation effect of the needle and maximize the sensation of chi. A treatment session may go for as short as five minutes or for as long as a full hour, again, depending on the needs of the patient or on how well the patient responds to the treatment. Usually, the needles are left inserted into the skin for approximately twenty to forty minutes.
The frequency and volume of sessions will be based on both the condition being treated and the style of treatment of the acupuncturist although it may range from one session to several sessions in a week, often over a span of many months. For the relief of pain, usually six treatment sessions are needed before significant results are felt, and if no improvements are seen after ten treatments then the acupuncture treatment is discontinued. A good acupuncturist may not always succeed in treating a patient but he will know when to stop treatment or recommend a continuance of the therapy. As the condition improves over time, treatments become less frequent although maintenance follow up sessions may be required at certain periods. A long treatment may be required for chronic conditions and that is usually the case for a condition such as IBS. It may take several months of regularly scheduled appointments to treat IBS.
Clinical studies Dealing with Acupuncture Treatment for IBS
One study of note dealt with the effectiveness of acupuncture in treating IBS as opposed to relaxation therapy. The study showed that the gastrointestinal symptom and quality of life scores of the patients were equal between the two therapies when it comes to the relief of stomach pain. But when the patients were next subjected to a month long post-trial period, the group given acupuncture was the only group that exhibited a consistent decrease in pain. Moreover, a marked decrease in stress perception was also seen in the group treated with acupuncture; this progress was not seen in the relaxation group. At the end of the study, the researchers came to the conclusion that for the treatment of IBS, acupuncture can be considered an effective form of treatment especially in the relief of stress and pain symptoms with an effectiveness that far exceeds that of conventional relaxation therapy.
While acupuncture’s ability to provide pain relief and symptomatic relief for IBS is not in question, from the standpoint of Western medicine, no one still understands why and how acupuncture works. Some Western medical researchers theorize that when a needle is inserted into the skin, it affects the nervous system by activating the production and release of neurotransmitters such as endorphins to prevent the signals of pain from being transmitted to the spinal cord and the brain. Studies have shown that acupuncture can affect changes in the way electromagnetic signals travel to the brain and change the blood circulation within the brain, as well. Acupuncture can boost circulation to the area of the brain associated with sensory impulses such as relaying pain signals (the thalamus) and alter the production of neurotransmitters such as norepinephrine, serotonin, and prostaglandins.
All these changes cannot be explained by Western medicine which does not recognize the existence of Chinese medicine principles such as chi or yin and yang or even the meridians. But all these do not matter in people suffering from IBS-caused constipation, diarrhea, or chronic pain. They don’t care what makes acupuncture work; only that it does. The most important thing for them is that they end up feeling much better and wouldn’t care a bit about the manner acupuncture works in making them feel better in the end.
On a side note, you may now probably have noticed that a lot of the most effective IBS treatments, from yoga, meditation to acupuncture or Tai Chi, have documented and well-established rates of success, but no explainable reason as to why they work. When it comes to IBS, conventional Western treatments regard IBS as a phantom condition; most doctors dismiss it as a psychosomatic illness. Why? Because they have no explanation as to what exactly causes this disease and thus have no good way of treating it. What matters to most patients is that they experience relief of their symptoms. So, if something helps relieve or prevents an IBS attack, then by definition, it can be seen as a valid form of treatment for the condition. People are naturally curious to know why and how a treatment works in treating or curing a condition. In IBS conditions, however, the answer may be found in the explanation of Chinese medicine practitioners.
Precautions When Getting Acupuncture Treatment
If you are still deciding whether or not to get acupuncture treatment, listed below are some precautions you need to heed:
1. If you have diabetes, then extreme caution is needed in the insertion of needles into your limbs, as even small punctures in the skin in patients with diabetic neuropathy can lead to severe infections. Talk to your doctor, if you have any concerns in this area.
2. If you have implants such as breast implants needles should not be inserted in the site of those implants since they may cause damage to those implants.
3. If you are pregnant, the activation of acupoints especially near or on the stomach can result in the contraction of the uterus and lead to premature labor and a high risk of miscarriage. If you are pregnant or think that you are, it is very important to tell it to your acupuncturist.
4. If you are taking warfarin (Coumadin) or any type of anticoagulant or if you are suffering from an uncontrolled bleeding condition, then acupuncture may not be an advisable treatment for you because it has the potential to draw blood.
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