How Does Acupuncture Work
How Does Acupuncture Work?
Whether you’re a long-time acupuncture patient, or perhaps you have yet to experience the power of acupuncture. Either way, you might wonder how these tiny needles could have such a powerful effect on health and well-being.
If so, you’re not alone! Acupuncture is an ancient healing art that originated in China thousands of years ago but continues to captivate the curiosity of both skeptics and believers alike. As more people seek holistic and non-invasive approaches to healthcare, acupuncture has gained popularity as a therapeutic modality with a range of benefits. But how does it work?
Let’s dive into the science behind acupuncture, the Western and Chinese Medicine perspectives on how acupuncture works, and how acupuncture could help you live healthier.
What is Acupuncture?
Before we dive into how acupuncture works, it’s essential to understand what acupuncture is.
Put simply; acupuncture is a natural therapeutic technique that involves the insertion of fine needles into specific points on the body. These points, also known as acupuncture points or acupoints, are energetically active areas through which energy, known as qi in Chinese medicine, flows.
Acupuncture may have become a popular healing modality in the past few decades, but it is no new therapy. It has been used for at least 3000 years in the traditional Chinese medical system to treat various conditions and promote overall well-being. Today, people still turn to acupuncture as a natural way to address their health issues and a preventative self-care practice for well-being.
The Science of Acupuncture: A Western Medicine Perspective
Acupuncture has been proven to be a viable alternative or complement to conventional medical treatments for pain, stress, infertility, digestive disorders, and more. But, researchers are still discovering exactly how this therapy works. Here’s what we do know…
Acupuncture Regulates the Nervous System
If you’ve ever had an acupuncture treatment, you’ve likely experienced the sense of deep relaxation acupuncturists like to call “the acu-nap.” While some people feel at ease, others may doze off, feel a gentle humming sensation through the body, or feel their lunch digesting. These are all signs that your parasympathetic nervous system has been activated.
Studies show that acupuncture shifts the body from a sympathetic nervous system state (fight or flight) into a parasympathetic state. During acupuncture, cortisol levels drop, heart rate slows, blood pressure lowers, and breathing deepens. In this state, your body can benefit from deep rest and focus on healing the issues.
Acupuncture Releases Natural Feel-good Chemicals in the Body
Researchers agree that one-way acupuncture works by stimulating the release of endorphins, which are natural pain-relieving chemicals in the body. This effect is why many people experience an immediate reduction in pain and stress after (or even during) an acupuncture treatment.
Acupuncture Promotes Healthy Blood Flow
Healthy blood flow is essential for optimal health – blood is crucial in delivering oxygen, nutrients, and immune cells to our various tissues and organs so we can move, think, and thrive.
Studies show that when acupuncture needles are inserted into specific acupoints, they trigger a cascade of physiological responses. One of these responses is the dilation of blood vessels near the acupoints. This vasodilation widens the blood vessels, allowing increased blood flow to the surrounding areas. By improving blood circulation, acupuncture helps bring more oxygen and nutrients to any injured or affected tissues or organs for repair and regeneration. This is likely why acupuncture effectively manages musculoskeletal injuries, chronic pain, and even skin disorders.
Acupuncture’s ability to enhance circulation also benefits our bodies as a whole. Better circulation means that waste products and toxins are removed from our bodies more effectively. This supports our natural detoxification, helps us keep inflammation levels low, boosts our energy levels, and improves our innate ability to heal and maintain optimal health.
How Acupuncture Works: A Chinese Medicine Perspective
Modern science has explained a few biological reasons why acupuncture works. But Chinese medicine has theories based on thousands of years of experimentation and observation.
In Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), the principles of acupuncture are deeply rooted in the concept of creating and maintaining balance and harmony within the body. According to TCM, the body’s vital energy (qi) flows through a vast network of meridians or channels, which you can think of as roads or rivers. When qi becomes imbalanced or blocked along the channels, it causes either stagnation or emptiness (like a dam or heavy traffic) – both of which can lead to various health issues. Stress, poor diet, emotional disturbances, environmental influences, or physical injuries can cause these imbalances.
Acupuncture helps restore the healthy flow of qi by removing the obstacles that stand in the way or by building more qi to promote better flow. We do this by stimulating specific acupoints along the channels with needles, heat application (moxibustion), or even pressure (acupressure). When enough qi and blood can flow smoothly to all cells, tissues, and organs, the body works optimally.
TCM also uses acupuncture to influence specific organs and their associated channels, emotions, and functions. Because these channels act like highways, interconnecting our various organ systems, acupuncture helps us stimulate, calm, or enhance the process of nearly any body part.
But acupuncture is not just about reversing illness and imbalance – it is even more effective as a preventative therapy. In TCM, maintaining good health is just as crucial as addressing disease. Acupuncture helps to keep qi and blood flowing correctly and build up the body’s resilience to stress and other issues so we live healthier and avoid getting sick in the first place.
The Proven Benefits of Acupuncture
Now that we understand how acupuncture works let’s learn more about what acupuncture can do for you. Acupuncture and other TCM therapies have been used to reduce (or eliminate) health symptoms and syndromes. Here are some key benefits of acupuncture that are supported by scientific research:
Acupuncture helps regulate the body’s stress response by calming the nervous system and promoting relaxation. It is particularly helpful for those experiencing anxiety, depression, or sleep disorders.
Acupuncture has been found to alleviate gastrointestinal issues such as nausea, acid reflux, and irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). It can also help promote better digestion and absorption of nutrients.
Studies show that acupuncture boosts the immune system by increasing white blood cell counts and enhancing the body’s defense against infections and diseases. Acupuncture has also been shown to reduce allergy and cold symptoms, all while improving overall respiratory health.
Acupuncture can help women experience more regular periods, reduced PMS symptoms, improved fertility, and less severe menopause symptoms. It helps by naturally regulating hormones and increasing blood flow to the reproductive organs.
Struggling to sleep? Acupuncture can help regulate sleep patterns, alleviate insomnia, and promote deeper, more restful sleep. By addressing underlying imbalances and promoting relaxation, acupuncture can improve night’s sleep and overall energy levels.
Athletes and active individuals looking for a competitive edge benefit from acupuncture’s ability to enhance performance and speed up injury recovery. Studies show acupuncture supports the healing process of sports-related injuries by promoting tissue repair, reducing inflammation, reducing muscle fatigue, and relieving pain.
Acupuncture: Ancient Wisdom, Proven By Modern Science
Acupuncture may seem mysterious, but research has shed new light on how this transformative treatment works. Ready to experience the many benefits of acupuncture for yourself? Visit us at Ravenswood Chiropractic & Wellness Center in Chicago or book your appointment or free consultation here
Dr. Marlena Siroki, DACM, L.Ac. is an Acupuncturist in Chicago at Ravenswood Chiropractic & Wellness Center in Andersonville. Dr. Marlena received her Doctor of Acupuncture and Chinese Medicine from Pacific College of Oriental Medicine in Chicago. She is a Nationally Board-Certified Acupuncturist and Herbalist and Diplomate of Oriental Medicine, certified by the National Certificate Commission for Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine.