Acupuncture: Targeting Chronic Pain with Jonathan Ammen

WebMD Live Events Transcript

Join acupuncturist Jonathan Ammen to discuss the use of this complementary therapy for the treatment of chronic pain.

Event Date:  May 18, 2000.

Moderator: Welcome to WebMD Live! Our guest is Jonathan Ammen, MEd, Licensed Acupuncturist, and the topic is "Acupuncture: Targeting Chronic Pain".

Jonathan Ammen is the Director of Acupuncture at the Lahey Clinic in Massachusetts. He is board-certified in acupuncture and Chinese herbal medicine, and is the president of the Acupuncture Society of Massachusetts.

The opinions of Jonathan Ammen are his and his alone. If you have specific questions or are concerned about your health, you should consult your personal physician. This event is provided for information purposes only.

Welcome, Mr. Ammen! Thanks for joining us.

Ammen: Thank you for asking me.

Moderator: First off, please provide us with some background on acupuncture.

Ammen: Acupuncture has been around for a long time. It is a medical art that has flourished in China and throughout the Orient for at least 2,500 years.  Acupuncture is one of the five major areas of therapeutics within the field of traditional Chinese medicine.  It is not exclusively Chinese, though its origins are Chinese. Modern acupuncture is practiced in Japan and Korea, with very distinct and wonderful styles from each tradition.  The other areas of therapeutics within Oriental medicine include herbal medicine, manual therapy -- which is Tui Na -- and exercise therapy, as well as dietetics.  I have training and experience in all of these areas.

For people who might be interested in learning more about the origins of acupuncture, I know WebMD has an article on some of the history and developments in acupuncture. We also have information at the Lahey Clinic Homepage.  The URL there is At this site, people should go to the "search" section and type in "acupuncture."

Moderator: How does acupuncture work?

Ammen: That's really a Nobel prize answer to that question. It can be answered wearing a Western scientific medicine hat, or an Oriental medicine hatI'll try to answer from both perspectives. From a Western scientific viewpoint, acupuncture needles, when they enter the skin, stimulate peripheral nerves which send messages into the central nervous system along the spinal cord and into the brain.   In the brain, various chemistry and electrical changes are evoked by acupuncture stimulus.  Those can include the release of endorphins, which are the body's natural pain relieving substance, as well as other neurotransmitters. Neurotransmitters, such as serotonin, can be associated with a host of brain changes and health benefits. From a scientific medical viewpoint, acupuncture stimulates blood circulation by dilating blood vessels all over the bodyIt has a regulating impact on the immune system, and may also have a regulating impact on certain endocrine functions. Which is why, for instance, acupuncture is so helpful in treating menstrual disorders. The answer to how acupuncture works, scientifically, can go on and on. I'll switch and speak about the Oriental perspective.  

Acupuncture is a technique which is used to balance and regulate the activity of the Qi, or Chi, in the bodyChi is usually described as the normal functional energy that is associated with all living processes. It flows through the body, through all living systems, in pathways called meridians.  Meridians are likened to rivers, or irrigation canals, in a poetic sense.  So acupuncture stimulation of points along the meridians regulates flow of Chi, or functional energy, in the body, and thereby enhances health. The meridian network is very complex.  It is understood to span all parts of the body with meridians continuously flowing into one another. Disease is understood to be something that can rise when its flow of Chi is somehow disrupted in one or more meridians, or one or more areas of the body.  Blockage of the Chi can result in pain, as well as dysfunction of organs or other tissues, and can have a broad impact on one's entire system. This is simply a way of describing every day, observable events.  When one sprains an ankle, they may have pain alongside of the leg, not just in the ankle, but all the way to the hip, even.  This is obstruction of the Chi from trauma.

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