Like HowStuffWorks on Facebook!

Acupuncture Overview

Acupuncture Schools of Thought

Several different types of acupuncture exist, all originating from different parts of the world. In the United States, practitioners most often use the type of acupuncture based on Traditional Chinese Medicine, which restores the natural flow of energy by stimulating pressure points throughout the body that correspond to various organ systems.

Japanese acupuncture is more subtle than its Chinese counterpart. Its needles are thinner and shorter, and they barely pierce the skin. Japanese acupuncture is divided into two forms: root and local. Root acupuncture addresses the total energy imbalance in the body, while local acupuncture treats specific symptoms.

Five Element acupuncture is an ancient Chinese technique used to treat problems of both the body and the mind. It is based on the idea that health, just like everything else in the universe, is governed by the five elements: water, wood, fire, earth, and metal. Restoring a balance of these elements in the body, the theory goes, will result in good health.

points of the ear
Photo courtesy of Dreamstime
Acupuncture points of the ear

Auricular acupuncture was developed in France, and it focuses all of the body's acupuncture points in just the ear. Two hundred points line the ears, and each point is connected to an area or areas of the body. When a point is stimulated, it creates electrical impulses that flow, via the brain, to a specific part of the body. For example, if the point on the ear that correlates to the knee is stimulated, it will affect pain or symptoms in the knee. Auricular acupuncture is believed to be just as effective as whole body acupuncture, because stimulating the ear is thought to affect chi flow throughout the body.

Korean hand acupuncture is similar to auricular acupuncture, except that the focal point is the hand, rather than the ear. Points on the hand meridians, when stimulated, correspond to various parts of the body.

Sticking It To Your Pets

People love their pets. They dress them in fur coats and throw them outrageous birthday parties. Now, some people are indulging their pets in alternative therapies to help them feel their best.

Dogs, cats, horses, and even birds and rabbits are getting acupuncture to treat conditions ranging from pain to skin problems to urinary tract disorders. Although pet acupuncture may seem like a modern indulgence, the Chinese actually began pampering their pets with it during the Jin Dynasty (136-265 A.D.). In the 1970s the practice began catching on in the United States.

Pet acupuncture isn’t much different from the human variety. Needles are placed in specific pressure points throughout the animals’ body that correspond to the affected areas. Although pets can’t say how they’re feeling during the procedure, some vets claim that acupuncture has a calming effect on animals. The American Veterinary Medical Association recognizes acupuncture as a legitimate treatment, and some pet insurance plans will even cover the costs.