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How Acupuncture Works

Acupuncture is an ancient healing art and is one of the primary modalities of Traditional Chinese Medicine. People have long recognized that acupuncture has been practiced in Asia for thousands of years. The theory of acupuncture is based on the idea that the human body contains energetic pathways called channels or meridians through which life force circulates. The Chinese call this life force “Qi”. The meridians run along the same pathways as the circulatory and organ systems, evenly distributing Qi flow through the body to maintain normal, healthy functions. However, if the energy flow becomes congested or diminished in any region of the body, a state of imbalance will occur, creating an environment for ailments to manifest.

Acupuncture uses hair-thin needles that are inserted into specific points of the body. These needles are stimulated to facilitate Qi flow and unblock congested channels, thus reconnect the meridians. As a result, endorphins are released, promoting a deep sense of relaxation. This process will bring the body back to a state of homeostasis and health.

In recent years, PET scans have been used to visibly see the effects of acupuncture during treatment. When a person is hooked up to a PET scan, areas of the body that are healthy appear as bright yellow, orange or red in color; in contrast, areas of the body where stagnation, ailments, and blockages are present appear to be void of color or dark blue. Upon receiving an acupuncture treatment, we are immediately able to see, on screen, the hue shift from no color or blue, to a bright yellow, orange, or red; thus indicating that the free flow of Qi is once again becoming balanced.

Today, acupuncture is a widely accepted alternative to conventional health care, and many people use it for pain relief. However, the benefits of acupuncture extend far beyond pain management (please refer to “Conditions Treated”).

The characteristics of acupuncture treatment are listed below:

1. Individualization:

The beauty of Traditional Chinese Medicine is that acupuncture and herbal medicine therapies are catered to the individual.  The treatment of disease will vary with each person, place, time, pathogenesis, and type of disease.  We call this “treating the same disease with different methods.”  For example, the common cold can be treated a variety of ways using acupuncture and herbal formulas.  Each person’s unique physical constitution, mental state, daily activity, dietary intake, etc. varies, thus the diagnosis and treatment plan will reflect this individualization.  The treatment can also change depending on the seasons.  This is mainly due to the fact that weather plays an important role in how disease manifests.  Migraine headaches are yet another example of an illness that can be caused by several factors, thus the treatment will utilize different channels, points, acupuncture techniques, and herbal formulas.  

Conversely, a principle for treatment in which the same therapy is applied to treat different diseases with the same pathogenesis, is called “treating different diseases with the same therapy.”  For instance, rectum prolapse, diarrhea, and uterine prolapse, can be treated by the therapy of nourishing the middle warmer and enhancing the vital energy.  We emphasize more on the individual’s root of pathogenesis regardless of the Western name of the disease or the symptoms. 

Lastly, practitioners have their own unique quality of care and energetic sensibility to a patient’s presenting illness.  You may find that if you see several acupuncturists for the same illness, each one will approach your treatment differently, and you will also experience varying results.  It is important to find an acupuncturist who is a good match and understands you.  Once you find the right doctor, trust and communication are key to creating an optimal healing environment.

2. Treating the whole body (holistic point of view)

Traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) looks at the entire body instead of its parts, and to a larger extent, also views the body in accordance with the natural world.  For example, a chronic low back muscle strain that causes pain is not only due to weakness of the local muscles, but can be attributed to congested energy flow in the kidney channel, large intestine channel, or even urinary bladder channel.  If the meridian energy flows properly, an increase in blood flow will have a positive impact on the low back region. When Qi and blood circulation are optimal, there is less chance of injury or strain to the muscles and tendons. Therefore, critical thinking is required in understanding and treating the disease, i.e. regarding the viscera and other organs/tissues as an integrative whole. 

3. Minimal side effects

Acupuncture treatment is very gentle with almost no side effects and helps to balance the Qi, blood, and body fluids.  The same points can be used to treat diarrhea and constipation, depression and anxiety, hypo and hyperthyroidism. The desired effect is dependent on the body's current stage of illness, acupuncture technique, combination of point prescription, and intention.  Occasionally, you may feel soreness or tenderness in the area treated.  However, this is the body's natural healing process taking effect.

4. Long lasting results

Acupuncture treatment stimulates the body's self-healing mechanism to speed up recovery. The results can take longer than Western medication, as acupuncture is an incremental process, but once the acupuncture takes effect, the results are typically long-term, and in some cases, without relapse.  Some studies show that after 12 regular consecutive treatments, results remain more stabilized.  This is why you should finish the recommended treatment course.

5. Preventive therapy

Acupuncture treatment is health care instead of disease care. The first book of Traditional Chinese Medicine, called Yellow Emperor Internal Classic, states, “the best doctor helps you prevent disease, not only treat the disease.” Most people believe that if you do not have any disease, then you are healthy. This is not true. Everyone, at one time or other, has experienced a feeling of being more vulnerable to invading pathogens and has a hard time fighting off illness, but at other times, feels fine.

Even though you may be feeling healthy now, a majority of people have some form of weakness (imbalance) in a certain area due to their genetic constitution. Acupuncture can help you repair this weakness to prevent any illness or imbalance in the future. Regularly checking your energy flow is the best way to prevent sickness and keep you physically and mentally balanced.

6. Expectations of Acupuncture:

  • Supports your self-healing system.
  • Do not look for miracles.  Healing takes time depending on your level of energy and your condition.
  • All situations are unique.  You may have had a similar symptom in the past and received relief after one or two treatments, but this may not be the case the second time around because your condition and energy level may be different.