How Does Acupuncture Work?


What is acupuncture? According to a definition on Google: Acupuncture is “a system of complementary medicine that involves pricking the skin or tissues with needles, used to alleviate pain and to treat various physical, mental, and emotional conditions. Originating in ancient China, acupuncture is now widely practiced in the West.”

Many people in the West are familiar with acupuncture. Acupuncture was first brought to the U.S. by Chinese immigrants back in the 1800’s. It was considered an illegal practice up until the early 1970’s. Today, there are approximately 50 acupuncture schools located throughout the U.S. Since many insurance companies are now covering acupuncture treatments, more people are receiving acupuncture and discovering its benefits. Acupuncture and Chinese herbal medicine can help with so much more than just pain: it can help many serious illness as well: stroke recovery, autoimmune diseases, hormone imbalances,  anxiety and depression, help with cancer and chemotherapy symptoms…the list is endless.

So, how does acupuncture work? The traditional view, in a nutshell, is that it regulates the circulation of Qi (vital energy) and Blood. Disease is caused by disruptions or blockages in the normal flow of Qi and Blood in the body, and acupuncture clears these blockages. Thus, it relieves pain, reduces inflammation, and restores balance to the body’s systems. Qi and Blood flow along specific pathways, usually referred to as meridians, that are located throughout the body. These meridians are accessed through a collection of hundreds of acupuncture points on the body. Some meridians are larger and some are smaller, and reach all areas of the body in a complex network, similar to how blood flows in large arteries and small capillaries, but not equivalent to these.

Western science has been studying acupuncture for many years. Although a definitive scientific explanation has yet to be uncovered (and perhaps never will be), there are many theories. One such theory is that it works by stimulating the nervous system; once stimulated, the nerves then release the body’s own chemical messengers (neurotransmitters and hormones). These chemicals act locally, or close to the needling site, or travel all the way to the brain, giving instruction to stimulate the body’s natural healing response. In the case of pain relief, the chemicals released are the body’s endogenous opioids, such as endorphins. Acupuncture also stimulates the release of oxytocin, one of the ‘feel-good’ chemicals in the body, causing the nervous system to kick into parasympathetic, or relaxation, mode. Acupuncture also changes the way your brain responds to pain, affects the brain’s influence on internal organ function, and boosts the immune system.

Another prevailing theory is that the information from the acupuncture needles is transmitted throughout the body by the network of fascia, the fibrous connective tissue mainly comprised of collagen that attaches to, stabilizes, and encloses muscles, internal organs, and virtually all parts of the body. The fascia links all parts of the body in a chain-like fashion. Fascia is also closely connected to the nervous system. That explains why manipulation of an acupuncture point on your big toe can affect your digestive system.

Although we don’t yet have a definitive scientific explanation on how acupuncture works, the results are clear. Acupuncture, with its more than 3,000 year history as a healing system, does indeed work. Give it a try!

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