Acupuncture 101: How do Needles Work?

Ever wonder why inserting a tiny needle between your thumb and index finger can help your headache?  Or putting needles in your ear can help your indigestion?

Many people wonder how acupuncture works.  Scientists and doctors are especially prone to skepticism about acupuncture.  To people trained in western medicine, it doesn’t make sense.  Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) does not follow their familiar logic.

Yet there is growing body of evidence that TCM, and acupuncture specifically, is an effective treatment for many injuries and diseases–often with few side effects.  For these reasons more and more hospitals, clinics and doctors worldwide are recommending it for their patients.

Research and clinical trials will continue but for the people who have found relief from their symptoms and conditions using these ancient techniques, such research is unnecessary.  They know acupuncture works.

But why?

Western Perspective

There are several theories to explain acupuncture.  The most widely accepted is that the stimulation of acupuncture points with needles sends electrical signals to the brain to release endorphins, the chemicals that make us feel good.  Another theory states that acupuncture needles stimulate blood flow and tissue repair at the needle sites.  Still another states that needles send nerve signals to the brain that regulate the perception of pain and reboot the autonomic nervous system to a “rest and relax” state.  Some scientists now believe that acupuncture uses several of these mechanisms at once.

While each theory explains some of the clinical trial results, none of them explain the wide range of conditions that benefit
from acupuncture.

Eastern Perspective

There is no western analogy to Traditional Chinese Medicine concepts.

TCM believes Qi, or life energy, flows through the body.  The Qi flows in channels called meridians and the meridians connect the organs together.  To remain healthy you need the free flow of Qi through the meridians, much like rivers flow in their riverbeds.

Sometimes the flow of Qi becomes imbalanced.  Like a river, it can be blocked, excessive or deficient.  To rebalance the Qi, you stimulate acupuncture points to free the flow of Qi
and return it to a more balanced state.
One way to stimulate the points is with acupuncture needles.

Since the meridians connect the organs of the body, sometimes you can stimulate an acupuncture point that seems completely unrelated to the organ you want to balance.  If you unblock a river at one point the flow of the entire river, upstream and downstream, returns to normal.  Acupuncture works much the
same way.

References:
http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052748704841304575137872667749264.html

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