How Does Acupuncture Work?

By Vivian Law BPHE, Traditional Chinese Medicine R.Ac

Sometimes things work backwards. I would never have agreed to become a yoga teacher 10 years ago, so yin yoga was even more of a stretch. It is not my thing to sit still, and it remains more natural for me to not sit for more than 20 minutes, since it is my tendency to move. I believe it is a natural inclination to fidget or not and apparently it burns more calories.

I started to study Traditional Chinese medicine over 4 years ago with interest in herbs first, then it became a goal to become a Traditional Chinese Medicine Practitioner of herbs and acupuncture. I had no plan to be a registered acupuncturist, and here I am practicing Traditional Chinese Medicine Acupuncture. Needles still scare me and I have learned to peacefully coexist with them. I take great care to be gentle inserting needles during an acupuncture treatment, treating patients as I would like to be treated. Having practiced on quite a few willing subjects in the past 4 years, I can say I am becoming more and more of a believer in acupuncture, seeing the benefit and difference people feel after receiving a few needles.

You may wonder- how does acupuncture work? On the simplest level, acupuncture works by providing the body with a stimulus (fine needle) to elicit change. How does that change happen in 10-20min with needles retained or within seconds with Japanese style contact needling? The change happens within the body- insertion of the needle affects the nervous system, which transmits (energy)signals within the body. Ideally the treatment calms the nervous system and the specific selection of points provides stimulus for healing or bringing balance to the body. Key concept is all change starts on an energetic level first, then it becomes physical.

Various health professionals can perform acupuncture and it really matters WHO gives you the needles. The more the practitioner knows about the human body/mind and the potential impact of the needles the better. My dad persistently calls needles ‘noodles’ and I do not correct him, since it makes a scary word seem harmless, plus it is funny! Allow me to make an analogy with ‘noodles’ here, imagine an acupuncture treatment as a session where you and the professional are working together to cook ‘noodles’ to the perfect consistency (al dente). You and the acupuncturist are working together to help you feel ‘just right’ (more like yourself- refreshed), so ideally the needles are inserted in the right places for you.

How do we find the right points for insertion of needles? This is a skill with a major variance between practitioners. There is approximately 20 square feet of skin on a human body, 600 muscles and over 360 acupuncture points. We are looking for impact with an acupuncture treatment, a little can go a long way, especially as a form of preventative medicine. In my experience so far, acupuncture is highly effective for regulating energy in the body. For example, heartburn and nausea can be relieved with acupuncture and this is accomplished by encouraging the body movement of the contents of the stomach downwards, which is ‘normal’. All processes in the body have an orderly movement and is more likely to stay that way when a person lives a healthy lifestyle, keeping everything moving as best we can. Acupuncture encourages this ideal circulation.

It is a process to understand traditional chinese medicine and acupuncture, simultaenously simple and complex, so I will keep writing on this topic to offer explanation.

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