How does acupuncture work?

AcupunctureBy stimulating specific anatomic sites on the body (commonly referred to as acupuncture points or acupoints), acupuncture promotes the body’s natural self-healing process. The method most commonly used to stimulate these points is the insertion of fine, sterile needles into the skin, though acu-pressure, heat, or electrical stimulation may be used alone or in conjunction to further enhance the effects. Other stimulation techniques include: tui na (manual massage), moxibustion or heat therapy, cupping, gua sha or the application of topical herbal medicines and liniments.

Chinese Medical Theory

In Chinese Medical Theory there are 12 organs and 12 channels that circulate throughout the body. Though these organs share the same names as the Western names for the organs, they are not looked at the same and hold different functions according to the Chinese Medical System. Each organ system rules a specific physiological function within the body and governs its respective “channel” (circulatory pathway). These channels are connected to the health of the organ and vice versa. It helps to think of the channels as freeways and disease or illness as a traffic jam blocking the smooth flow of blood and energy throughout the body. These ‘traffic jams’ or blockages can be caused by traumatic injury, emotional trauma, poor diet, or external environmental influences and can create imbalances in the body, leading to chronic pain and illness. Acupuncture treatment works to release these blockages, restoring balance to the body and promoting its natural healing response.

Western Theory

To put the above theories into understandable terms from a Western perspective, when a needle is inserted into the skin, neurotransmitters are released into the brain causing suppression of pain sensation; oftentimes during treatment, a patient may experience a feeling of euphoria. This helps explain why acupuncture has been shown in numerous studies to be very effective in pain reduction. The use of functional MRI studies have also shown that specific areas of the brain are activated with the stimulation of acupuncture points. These areas of the brain are involved with the regulation of pain, stress, hormonal control, and emotions. Recently it has been discovered that our fascia network (the connective tissue that encompasses the entire body and all of the internal organs) is more alive than previously thought and seems to communicate with itself from one area of the body to another. Studies have shown that the location of the acupoints are often found at key convergences of these fascial planes, and that needles inserted at these points have a strong interaction with the fascia. This gives us another explanation as to how acupuncture works, not just on pain but on the balancing all of the body’s systems.