Electroacupuncture is one of many derivatives or variants of traditional Chinese acupuncture being used today. These treatments are quickly becoming a staple of modern alternative and complementary medicine, and electroacupuncture in particular has shown promise in certain treatments.

What is electroacupuncture?

Simply put, electroacupuncture is the practice of acupuncture with the inclusion of small electric currents used to stimulate muscles and nerves. The practice is also referred to as percutaneous electrical nerve stimulation, or PENS, and is considered by many acupuncturists to be a useful tool that complements traditional acupunctural treatments.

Compared to traditional acupuncture and many other forms of acupuncture that have arisen, electroacupuncture remains a relatively new practice. It is thought to date back to either 19th century Europe or 20th century Japan, although evidence as to its origins remains sketchy. The technique has, since its relatively recent development, become extremely popular.

Like traditional acupuncture, electroacupuncture aims to stimulate particular acupoints, and through those, facilitate recovery and treat a variety of different conditions. Unlike traditional acupuncture however, electroacupuncture makes use of small electrical currents passed through needles once they have been placed within their target acupoint. Electroacupuncture actually makes use of two needles simultaneously, and currents travel from one of these to other, stimulating nerves and muscles in a much larger area than traditional acupuncture needles.

Traditional acupuncture was developed on the basis of ancient Chinese beliefs regarding Qi and its flow through the body. Qi is, according to Chinese belief, a life energy that passes through the body and is responsible for good health. It was thought that disease and pain were caused by disruptions in the natural movement of Qi through its vessels within the body, and acupuncture needles were used on target acupoints to restore the healthy movement of Qi through the body’s vessels.

Electroacupuncture is thought by traditional acupuncturists to be particularly useful where there is a build of Qi and an extra push is needed to clear the obstruction. More modern acupuncturists base their practice on current understandings of physiology, and it is thought that electroacupuncture can enhance the stimulatory effect that acupuncture may have no nerve endings and muscles. Electroacupuncture can potentially contribute to the release of neurotransmitters, chemicals involved in signalling from nerve cells, and trigger pain relief and other recovery mechanisms.

In truth there is little in the way of high quality scientific evidence that electroacupuncture’s mechanisms of action, but more research is being performed into how these treatments work, and more specifically, whether these treatments work. There are some studies that point to electroacupuncture as a useful method of treating a variety of conditions. These include muscle spasms, pain relief, and nausea caused by cancer treatments. There is some indication that electroacupuncture can trigger the release of a class of compounds called endorphins from the nervous system. These compounds can have many positive effects, including improved mood and  reduced blood pressure.

Are there any risks involved in electroacupuncture?

Many people who pursue electroacupuncture worry about the risk of electric shock or other injuries of that nature. Fortunately, electroacupuncture is an extremely safe technique which makes use of an extremely small current during treatments. The current used is far too small for anything more than a tingling sensation.

As it is an acupuncture technique that involves the insertion of needles through the skin, electroacupuncture does carry small risks of infection and injury during the insertion of a needle. Fortunately investigations into these risks have shown that incidences of both infection and injury are almost exclusively limited to occasions where an inexperienced acupuncturist has been responsible for treatment.

The use of electroacupuncture is not recommended for patients with a history of heart problems, stroke, seizures, or epilepsy. Patients with pacemakers should avoid the treatment as even small scale electrical stimulation can disrupt the workings of these small but extremely important device regulating the heart rate of people with cardiac disorders.

If you are using electroacupuncture you should make sure that the practitioner you are employing has sufficient training and experience. You should also talk to your doctor prior to seeking such treatment, especially if you have a history of heart problems or the like.

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