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How it works

Most people are curious about how acupuncture works. Here I will present some modern understanding of how acupuncture works and the traditional understanding of how acupuncture works.

Western biomedical understanding of how acupuncture works

There is no one western theory that can account for all of the benefits that acupuncture can provide but there are certain biochemical/physical responses that can account for some of its effects. Essentially acupuncture is a system of medicine that aims to help the body heal itself. Modern research shows that acupuncture can affect most of the body's systems - the nervous system, muscle tone, hormone outputs, circulation, antibody production, and allergic responses, as well as the respiratory, digestive, urinary, and reproductive systems. Here are some of the ways that acupuncture can help.

  • Increases opiod release the bodies, natural pain killers

  • Increases muscular movement. Better lubrication of joints and a reduction in joint inflammation.

  • Reduces anxiety and stress keeping Cholecystokinin (a chemical within the body, which restricts the good effects of endogenous opioids.

  • Enhances Immune System response - Immune System = Defence

  • Increases Adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH) and raises cortisol levels which have anti-inflammatory properties.

  • Needles placed near the site of pain or in tender points (trigger points) produce an analgesia effect.

  • Gate theory- acupuncture prohibits the passage of stronger pain signals along the nervous system producing an analgesic effect.

  • Small sample MRI scans indicate that acupuncture may decrease brain activity associated with the perception of pain.

Traditional Understanding of Acupuncture

Traditional acupuncturists are trained to use subtle diagnostic techniques that have been developed and refined for centuries. The focus is on the individual, not their illness, and all the symptoms are seen in relation to each other. Illness, therefore, is seen as a manifestation of the person’s whole health.

According to Chinese theory, our health and well-being is dependent on the body’s vital energy (known as Qi), moving in a smooth and balanced way through a series of channels beneath the skin. The energy of a person’s body is distributed along 12 main acupuncture channels which run up and down the body connecting the different organs of the body and linking different parts of the body with one another creating a living interconnecting network that can be easily accessed. The acupuncturist taps into the network of meridians and guides the body to begin its own healing process.

In treatment, a fine, single-use, sterile, stainless steel needle is inserted just below the surface of the skin to stimulate acupuncture points lying along the acupuncture channels which run throughout the body to stimulate or unblock the flow of energy, restoring balance and triggering the body's natural healing response. Health is seen as a state of physical, mental and social well-being accompanied by freedom from illness or pain.

“To wait for the illness to develop before remedying it, for the disorder to form before taking care of it, is to wait until one is thirsty before digging a well, to wait for the battle before forging the weapons, is this not too late?”  - su wen chapter 2

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