Acupuncture is the practice of puncturing the skin with needles at certain anatomical points in the body to relieve specific symptoms associated with many diseases. The anatomical points (acupuncture points) are thought to have certain electrical properties, which affect chemical neurotransmitters in the body. Acupuncture is one of the oldest, most commonly used medical practices in the world. Originating in China more than 2,500 years ago, acupuncture gained attention in this country in the 1970s, when China and the US opened relations. The practice has been growing in popularity since.
According to theories of traditional Chinese medicine, the human body has more than 2,000 acupuncture points connected via pathways, or meridians. These pathways create an energy flow (Qi, pronounced "chee") through the body that is responsible for overall health. Disruption of the energy flow can cause disease. Acupuncture may correct these imbalances when applied at acupuncture points and improve the flow of Qi.
Acupuncture is generally performed with metallic, solid, and hair-thin needles. They are disposable, used only once, and never reused. Patients report different feelings associated with acupuncture, but most feel minimal to no pain as the needle is inserted. Acupuncture makes some people report feeling energized by the treatment, while others say they feel relaxed.
Acupuncture works to balance you because it looks at your organ systems to determine what's getting weaker or what's getting toxic. It looks at your immune system, at your circulation, at your sleep, digestion and elimination, and then uses combinations of acupuncture points to treat what is becoming diseased, often before it shows up as a serious disease or can be diagnosed by a test. It can also help you recover from illness and injury faster.
What it feels like
You will feel tingly at first, and then blissfully relaxed. Acupuncture has been proven to stimulate the release of endorphins; your body’s natural happy chemicals. You won’t have as many aches and pains. Your breathing, circulation and digestion will improve; your mind will become calmer and more focused; your wounds will heal more quickly; you will have more energy during the day and sleep easier at night. There are no chemicals involved aside from those produced by your own body. Also, acupuncture stimulates your body to flush out toxins, which is important to staying healthy. There are no side effects to acupuncture, only side benefits. While you may come in looking to solve a specific problem, you will eventually notice that you are feeling better in other ways as well.
How Does Acupuncture Effect the Body (from a medical perspective)?
Many studies have documented acupuncture's effects on the body, but none has fully explained how acupuncture works within the framework of Western medicine. Researchers have proposed several processes to explain acupuncture's effects, primarily on pain. In general, acupuncture points are believed to stimulate the central nervous system, which, in turn, releases chemicals into the muscles, spinal cord, and brain. These chemicals either alter the experience of pain or release other chemicals that influence the body's self-regulating systems. These biochemical changes may stimulate the body's natural healing abilities and promote physical and emotional well-being.
Attention has been focused on the following theories to further explain how acupuncture affects the body:
- Conduction of electromagnetic signals
Evidence suggests that acupuncture points are strategic conductors of electromagnetic signals. Stimulating these points enables electromagnetic signals to be relayed at greater-than-normal rates. These signals may start the flow of pain-killing biochemicals, such as endorphins, or release immune system cells to specific body sites.
- Activation of the body's natural opioid system
Considerable research supports the claim that acupuncture releases opioids, synthetic or naturally-occurring chemicals in the brain that may reduce pain or induce sleep. These chemicals may explain acupuncture's pain-relieving effects.
- Stimulation of the hypothalamus and the pituitary gland
Joined at the base of the brain, the hypothalamus and pituitary glands are responsible for many body functions. The hypothalamus activates and controls part of the nervous system, the endocrine processes, and many bodily functions, such as sleep, regulation of temperature, and appetite. The pituitary gland supplies some of the body's needed hormones. Stimulation of these glands can result in a broad spectrum of effects on various body systems.
- Change in the secretion of neurotransmitters and neurohormones
Studies suggest that acupuncture may alter brain chemistry in a positive way. This is accomplished by changing the release of neurotransmitters (biochemical substances that stimulate or inhibit nerve impulses) and neurohormones (naturally-occurring chemical substances that can change the structure or function, or impact the activity of, a bodyorgan).