FAQ: "How Does Acupuncture Work?"

A glimpse into how acupuncture works- it’s all energy!

By Celeste Rose

How a few needles can have a significant healing affect on the body is a mystery to most. One of the most frequently asked questions I receive as a licensed acupuncturist is: “how does acupuncture work”. Whether new to acupuncture, or an experienced connoisseur, we can all benefit from understanding how these little needles work. While we don’t need to know how acupuncture works for it to work, this understanding can be very beneficial to our health. All the more reason to tap-in and tune-up, lets go!

Acupuncture operates within a vast and intricate system that has been developing for thousands of years. There is deep knowledge and method involved in understanding how acupuncture works. This is in conjunction with the precise technical skill needed to apply the knowledge and methods effectively. Through this blog post I seek to share a glimpse of how I see acupuncture work.

Short answer is that acupuncture works by attuning the body’s form and function. In acupuncture we can use needles to guide one’s body into its most optimal flow. Acupuncture operates through a cause and effect chain reaction. We look at each case individually to figure out what specific reaction is needed to create the desired change. A specific single point or combination of points is stimulated to trigger the point or point combination’s specific function. The needles can activate the body’s function associated with each acupuncture point. In this way acupuncture triggers the body’s natural resources for wellbeing.

” acupuncture works by attuning the body’s form and function.”

We can expand greatly on this generalization. First we need to talk about energy. Acupuncture is all about energy, energy, and energy. This may seem like an unusual concept in our greatly materialistic society. We are currently discovering through western physics: everything is energy. Yet some societies have understood this for many millennia. For instance, the Daoist masters. Ancient Daoist masters originated the acupuncture, lifestyle, and herbal medicine that is still being passed down through generations today. Acupuncture was founded on this reality: we are made of energy 

This energy we are made of is in constant circulation. Acupuncture works by affecting the body’s circulation. Our body is flowing with bioelectromagnetic currents mirroring our circulatory systems. Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) has mapped our meridian system by where the qi (grossly translated as “energy”) runs through our body. And sure enough these bioelectromagnetic channels correspond with our blood, nerve, and lymph flow.

A wonderful analogy for understanding meridians is to see them as a system of streams. Qi is the water: bubbling, flowing, deepening through the streams energetically. Acupuncture points are like little pools along the streams. If you apply force to a place in the current of the stream- woosh or crash or whatever your style is, it will create change. By adding a few sticks to a river, you can create a dam that creates a lake. By digging a trench, you can concentrate water flow. We can affect our flow in similar ways through working on the mechanics of our energy circuits.

The relationships within the energy circulating through our body are key to how acupuncture works. When one part of the network shifts, the whole network therefore shifts. From the understanding of these relationships come the point combinations needed to effectively balance the system. Depending on the case, individual or multi-point combinations are used to create the desired affect. A skilled acupuncturist can determine the proper point prescription for any given imbalance.

The implications of how acupuncture works are huge. One of them being that you can work your body’s energy flows how you want to. We now know: acupuncture is a tool that we can use to affect the body’s flow. So here is your spoiler alert/Jedi download for the week: we determine how acupuncture works. Ultimately, we determine the flow of our energy.

While we can understand how acupuncture works in this picturesque concept of balancing and attuning the flow within the body, we can also understand this from a biomechanical standpoint. Acupuncture can help the tissues directly by stimulating the body’s natural ability for healing. Upon the mere insertion of the needle a cascade of healing factor hormones floods into the area of insertion. Through this mechanism we see generation of proteins and receptors for tissue vitality and reduction of tissues degeneration. We are self-healing beings by nature, and acupuncture helps to support that.

Now that you have a glimpse of how acupuncture works I must emphasize: you don’t need to know how acupuncture works for it to work. As with many of the high-tech tools we use today: we use it, it works! If it’s broken we can take it to a technician to fix. The technician will fix it and may even educate you on what was wrong with it. We can use it effectively in for our purposes again, in ignorance or with an added understanding for what we had to fix for it to work properly. You can learn more in one of my upcoming blog posts: “How acupuncture can work for you”.

I hope this helped illuminate how acupuncture works for you in some way. Or at least help further your journey into figuring this out. The best way to understand “how acupuncture works” is to experience it personally. So come in for a consultation and treatment. Or experience consultation and treatment virtually, and be amazed at what TCM offers beyond the treatment room. TCM is here to help you heal and get to know yourself. So keep asking questions and explore on!