Practiced for many years, acupuncture has been relied on as treatment, by itself or as one aspect of a broader therapy program, for various conditions, primarily related to muscular or nervous system issues. Traditional Chinese medicine is most prevalent in many people’s minds, but contemporary forms of acupuncture differ in various ways, implementing modern medical theory and equipment for more effective and comprehensive treatment. Contemporary medical acupuncture exists as a therapeutic treatment based on conventional medical and neurological diagnoses, eschewing mystical practices in favor of the modern anatomical theory.
Acupuncture is widely believed to have originated in traditional Chinese medicine, with the earliest relevant records documenting its usage in 100 BC. In this form, acupuncture was applied on the basis of numerous methods and theories about medicine in the body, ranging from bloodletting to the manipulation of spiritual energy. A major common aspect, though, was the understanding of specific points on the body where acupuncture needles could be effectively placed. Most of the modern foundations for acupuncture were not developed until well into the 16th or 17th century; by this time, the practice had started to spread from Asia to Europe.
Traditional Chinese medicine such as acupuncture still is used for cultural or alternative medicine reasons, but belief in its applications in treating disease or acting in place of anesthetics for surgery has largely declined. Contemporary medical acupuncture, while taking cues from the traditional form, is informed by and works alongside conventional modern medicine, using safe practices and established anatomical and neurological models. CMA techniques are more commonly used with other therapeutic treatments than by itself, and formal diagnoses are made before any acupuncture is performed.
Sometimes called dry needling (as opposed to using needles to inject drugs), CMA is based on the theory of stimulating muscle tissue and the nervous system at specific points by the use of acupuncture needles. These needles, in contrast to those in traditional Chinese practices, are sterilized and disposable, intended for single use only. The needles are also very thin compared to both traditional needles and the hypodermics used for blood tests or vaccines, minimizing the pain response in patients.
The needles are typically inserted in tight muscles in or around nerve tissue. Insertion takes place only following a thorough diagnosis of the patient’s medical or neurological condition and the underlying dysfunctions that create the observed symptoms. This allows an informed decision to be made on the placement and stimulation of needles. Once in place, the needles may be stimulated manually or, in some procedures for neural conditions, by a light application of electricity. CMA is also often performed along with chiropractic therapy, particularly when addressing pain or muscle dysfunction.
CMA uses a combination of mechanical stimulation, prompting of natural healing processes, and light electrical pulses to restore proper function of the nervous system, adjusting muscle tone and the flow of nerve impulses. This either results in regulating a hyperactive neural response or heightens weakened activity, depending on the condition that must be treated. Though the needles are so thin that they pass through skin and tissue with effectively no damage, their insertion can be utilized to trigger an immune system response, similar to the body’s automatic response to a cut or puncture. This mechanism is relied on for the treatment of some conditions.
Contrasting with traditional Chinese acupuncture’s broad, cure-all application, CMA is based on a specific set of understood mechanisms in the body. The primary benefit of CMA is to regulate nervous system functions, and this is employed to treat pain, soreness, and stiffness in particular regions of the body. Most often, CMA is applied to treat lower back and hip pain, sciatica, and frozen shoulder, regions generally preferable for needle insertion.
Mechanical stimulation and triggered healing response can also help treat muscle tissues suffering from inhibition or weakness. Core strengthening exercises that fail to create results may be failing because of a neurological dysfunction rather than a purely physiological one, possibly induced by trauma or misuse. Up-regulating a weak nerve allows proper impulses to reach the affected muscle. Coupled with other forms of physical therapy, this aids in restoring the desired function of muscles following acute or chronic injury. Sometimes, the triggered healing process can be employed to aid recovery as well, though the nervous system ‘tuning’ is typically the primary form of treatment by CMA.
Though based on traditional techniques, modern acupuncture relies on a current medical understanding of the body to treat conditions. CMA is a valuable tool in a therapist’s box of treatments for patients dealing with short-term or chronic pain.