How does acupuncture work?
The Traditional Chinese View:
The roots of Chinese medicine go back thousands of years, though the theories have evolved over time. In the traditional Chinese view, qi(pronounced “chee”) is said to permeate through and around a network of channels within the body, which in the classics is often likened to rivers and waterways that run through the landscape. The acupuncture points lie within these energetic channels (also known as meridians), and when they become blocked, through unhealthy lifestyle practices, injuries, stress, tight muscles, and the wear and tear of getting older, a disease process is possible. Acupuncturists use small, disposable filiform needles to help unblock and redirect this current of energy, in order to bring the body back into a state of equilibrium.
The Western View:
In the west, there have been many theories proposed as to how acupuncture works, but differences between the traditional Chinese perspective and the western perspective, from a biochemical, anatomical, and physiological standpoint, make it difficult to form a unified theory of the exact mechanism. Newer research using advanced fMRI is making it easier to determine what exactly is happening inside the brain during an acupuncture treatment, so acupuncture research is gaining much more footing in the western medical community.
The effects of acupuncture fall into three categories: neurological, neuroendocrine, and local. The neurological response of acupuncture is that it induces a signal change which turns off distinct nerve fibers in the central nervous system, altering one's perception of pain- known to some as “gate theory.” Feel good chemicals, and chemicals responsible for alertness such as dopamine, serotonin, and norepinephrine are released. When these signals reach the hypothalamus(brain area that performs some metabolic functions, and nervous system activities), they release a cascade of hormones and endorphins. At a given acupuncture point there is a cluster of cells, vessels, and nerve endings, which when needled, cause several responses at once. When tissue is damaged( known as micro-trauma), as happens in an acupuncture session, a slight inflammatory reaction occurs, causing white blood cells in the surrounding tissue to move out of the blood vessels, and begin to remove pathogens, necrotic tissue and cell debris, and may cause an immunological response in the tissue. In the lymph draining from the injured area, substances that mediate the inflammatory response can be found.