How does acupuncture work?

Acupuncture works through stimulation of any number of the hundreds of acupuncture points located on the body, either through the use of needles or manual pressure. Stimulation accesses acupuncture points and helps guide qi, or the energy of life, and blood to areas where there is a not enough and disperses qi and blood away from areas where qi and blood are stuck. A bruise is an example of a place where blood is stuck, as can be seen in the purple/green/blue discoloration. Clearing away the old stuck blood and bringing fresh blood and qi to the bruised area greatly enhances and promotes quick and complete healing. If left untreated, these areas of insufficient qi and blood or areas of stagnant qi and blood lead to pain and disease. Through nourishing undernourished areas and clearing out stagnant areas, acupuncture works to promote the normal balanced flow of qi through the body and restores health.

Several processes have been proposed to explain how acupuncture works. Acupuncture points are believed to stimulate the central nervous system (the brain and spinal cord) to release chemicals into the muscles, spinal cord, and brain. These chemicals either change the experience of pain or release other chemicals, such as hormones, that influence the body’s self-regulating systems. The biochemical changes may stimulate the body’s natural healing abilities and promote physical and emotional well-being.

There are three main mechanisms for this to occur:

• Conduction of electromagnetic signals: Western scientists have found evidence that acupuncture points are strategic conductors of electromagnetic signals. Electro magnetic signals are the minute electrical impulses that transmit information through and between nerve cells. For example, electromagnetic signals convey information about pain and other sensations within the body’s nervous system. Stimulating acupuncture points, whether through manual manipulation of needles, or through electrical stimulation along these pathways enables electromagnetic signals to be relayed at a greater rate than under normal conditions. (Click here for a thorough resource on electro-stimulation). These signals may start the flow of pain-killing biochemicals, such as endorphins, and of immune system cells to specific sites in the body that are injured or vulnerable to disease.

• Activation of opioid systems: Research has found that several types of opioids may be released into the central nervous system during acupuncture treatment, thereby reducing pain. Opiods are synthetic or naturally occurring chemicals in the brain that may reduce pain and induce sleep.

• Changes in brain chemistry, sensation, and involuntary body functions: Studies have shown that acupuncture may alter brain chemistry by changing the release of neurotransmitters and neurohormones. Neurotransmitters are biochemical substances that stimulate or inhibit nerve impulses in the brain that relay information about external stimuli and sensations, such as pain. Neurohormones chemical substances made by tissue in the body’s nervous system that can change the structure or function or direct the activity of an organ or organs. Acupuncture also has been documented to affect the parts of the central nervous system related to sensation and involuntary body functions, such as immune reactions and processes whereby a person’s blood pressure, blood flow, and body temperature are regulated.

Preclinical studies, those studies on animals or cells, have documented acupuncture’s effects, but they have not been able to fully explain how acupuncture works within the framework of the Western system of medicine.

Is acupuncture safe?

Do acupuncture needles hurt?

What is a typical acupuncture treatment like?

What is the difference between Licensed Acupuncturists and Medical Acupuncture?

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