Acupuncture induces analgesia, which means the absence of pain. The term anaesthesia implies the person cannot feel anything. So the term acupuncture anaesthesia is actually a misnomer as when a person is given acupuncture for an operation, he is conscious and can feel what is going on, but without pain throughout the surgery. As the patient is entirely conscious he can cooperate with the surgeon during the operation. This is very useful in thyroid and brain surgeries where the surgeon needs the co-operation of the patient to ensure that he does not inadvertently damage or cut any vital structures.
Acupuncture analgesia is a simple procedure that does not require any complicated apparatus or drugs. A few needles are inserted and twirled around for a few minutes and the patient temporarily loses the ability to feel pain in the area then the operation is to be performed. The doctor carrying out the analgesia stimulates the needles with his hand or with an electric stimulator.
This is a safe, effective and easy to use method and is ideally used on elderly people for whom any form of anaesthesia is risky. It is the ideal form of anaesthesia for operations on the brain as the patient is awake, alert and able to cooperate with the surgeon. This allows the surgeon to accurately evaluate the potential implications of cutting any part of the brain, which is impossible with conventional anaesthesia.
The other advantages of acupuncture analgesia are that the patient does not suffer from any post-operative dizziness, nausea, abdominal distention, or any other side effects. The patient is up and about soon after the operation, is able to eat food immediately after the operation and he recovers very quickly as compared to conventional forms of anaesthesia.
When a patient is being taken up for acupuncture analgesia, it is important that he should be mentally prepared for this form of analgesia. He should be calm and relaxed. Each stage of the surgical procedure should be explained to him, so that he stays calm and does not panic during the operation. If however, the patient is obviously nervous, sceptical or apprehensive then it is unwise to use acupuncture analgesia. The surgeon needs to be careful about what he is saying and doing during the operation so that he does not alarm the patient who is awake and alert.
To date, over a million patients have undergone operations with acupuncture analgesia and it has been gradually refined into a fine art. At present, even open-heart surgery is carried out with a single needle inserted into the arm. During the operation the patient feels that the chest is being opened but there is no pain during the process.
Acupuncture has now been used to give analgesia for many types of operations. Acupuncture analgesia is more successful in operations involving the chest, neck and head. It is not as effective for abdominal operations as the sensation of stretching which occurs in abdominal operations is uncomfortable and requires the cooperation of the patient.
Acupuncture analgesia has been used for tonsillectomy, extraction of teeth, cataract surgery (surgery on the eyes) and operations on the skull and brain. It has been used for thyroid operations, for opening the chest to take biopsies of the lung and in open-heart surgeries. Other operations like removal of the gall bladder, removal of the spleen, surgery for bleeding piles, hysterectomies and fixation of fractures of the femur have all been successfully performed with acupuncture analgesia.
The same principle is used for painless childbirth. The use of acupuncture to aid childbirth reduces the pain of labour and shortens its duration by increasing the dilatation of the cervix. The patient is comfortable and as there is no pain, she is in a position to co-operate, press down and allow the child to be expelled quickly and smoothly.