May 21, 2012
Traditional Chinese medicine is at least 2,500 years old. It views the human body as a system of energy flows. When these flows are balanced, the body is healthy. Practitioners take their patients' pulses and examine their tongue to diagnose energy imbalances. In Chinese medicine, pulses can be taken at three positions on each wrist, and at three depths at each position.
Illness is not defined by symptoms or the name of a disease like "HIV infection." Instead, a practitioner of Chinese medicine will talk about energy imbalances. The language can sound very strange, like "yin deficiency" or "liver heat rising." The Chinese words yin and yang refer to opposing energies that should be in balance, and Qi (pronounced "chee") can be roughly translated as energy or life force.
In traditional Chinese medicine, there are many ways to improve the balance of the body's energy flows. The most common techniques used in the western world are exercise techniques such as Qigong or Tai Chi, or acupuncture or herbalism. Fact Sheet 704 has more information on Chinese herbalism.
Many practitioners of Chinese medicine specialize in either acupuncture or herbalism. Very few use both methods.
Acupuncture does not cure HIV infection. Many people, however, believe that it has helped them improve their overall energy, or deal with the side effects of antiretroviral medications (ARVs). Some people have used acupuncture to reduce the upset stomach or diarrhea caused by their medications. Other people find that it helps ease the pain caused by neuropathy (see Fact Sheet 555 for more information on neuropathy).
You might receive additional treatments during acupuncture to increase the flow of energy:
Some practitioners use small beads or tiny needles held in place with adhesive to keep pressure on an acupuncture point for a few days.
You should not go for an acupuncture treatment if you have had any alcoholic beverage within an hour, or if you are using any recreational drugs.
Be sure your acupuncturist knows if you are pregnant. Some acupuncture points should not be stimulated during pregnancy.
A recent study on acupuncture to relieve the pain of neuropathy did not show any benefits. However, the study design has been criticized for using the same acupuncture points for everyone in the study, and for using fake acupuncture points for comparison. Many people with neuropathy believe that acupuncture has helped them.