As an acupuncture student treating patients at the school clinic, I often have patients ask me about how acupuncture works. After fumbling over words like energy and stasis, I soon realized I didn’t have a good answer. In school we’re taught Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) helps to move Qi or expel wind, but to a regular person this doesn’t have a lot of meaning. I found that being able to explain acupuncture energetically is often considered too mystical to help people understand what’s actually going on in their body, even for patients who have seen positive results. So I set out to find a better way of explaining the science behind acupuncture.
What is Acupuncture? Acupuncture is the use of very thin needles inserted shallowly into the skin in specific points. Each point is categorized by a channel (or meridian) and a number. All together there are 14 channels with their own points, with 12 related directly to an internal organ. Many of the points correspond to certain categories with specific indications, e.g. points at the tips of the fingers and toes are known as Jing Well points and are commonly used for high fever or fainting.
What does Acupuncture treat? The World Health Organization (WHO) has a list of symptoms and conditions that are clinically proven to benefit from acupuncture. These symptoms include morning sickness, allergies, headaches, knee and low back pain, arthritis, sciatica, stroke, side effects of chemotherapy and radiation, and high blood pressure.
How does Acupuncture work? Acupuncture helps to stimulate blood flow, reduces inflammation and brings nutrients to the cells in the areas where needles are inserted. Acupuncture has also been shown to affect the fascia, which is a broad thin sheet of connective tissue that covers the body and lies between the skin, muscles and internal organs. By stimulating fascia in one area of the body acupuncturists are able to treat other areas that are connected. For example by stimulating a point on the hand a patient may experience less sinus congestion and pain or a point on the calf can be used to treat symptoms of appendicitis.
In Part 2, we will explore the common symptoms that are often treated using acupuncture and how those symptoms are treated.