Having originated in China more than 5,000 years ago, acupuncture is a very well-established medical system that is practiced worldwide. Since its introduction to the United States in the early 1970s, it has seen exponential growth throughout the country. Best known in the U.S. for pain relief, acupuncture is recognized by the World Health Organization as an effective means to treat numerous conditions.
According to traditional Chinese medicine (TCM), health is seen as harmony between inner forces in the body. These forces, yin and yang, are central concepts in Eastern thought. Two opposing but complementary aspects, they symbolize the cyclic, ever-changing nature of the universe. In the body, yin and yang are manifest as blood and Qi, respectively. Qi is the body’s vital energy, the life force, “that which animates life.”
When yin and yang are unbalanced, the result is illness and pain. Disease occurs because the flow of Qi has been disrupted. This loss of equilibrium may be attributed to several factors. Before discussing these factors, however, it is important to clarify the TCM view of the body.
According to TCM, the human body is comprised of five organ networks: heart, spleen, kidney, lung and liver. The heart network maintains blood circulation as well as governs the mind and spirit. The spleen system is responsible for digestion as well as clarity of thought, while the kidney network controls growth and reproduction. The lung system allows for the inhalation of oxygen and transports Qi to the kidney network. The liver network dictates mood and directs the flow of Qi.