How Does Acupuncture Work

By Breana Harrison, L.Ac.

A question that we get asked a lot here at Meeting Point Community Acupuncture is, “How does acupuncture work?” In all honesty this question used to cause me to stumble because I knew the patient was asking me to explain eastern philosophy in a western manner. The medicine is thousands of years old, they have been doing acupuncture in Asia before we had modern medicine and computers to explain what was happening in the body, and very little studies have been done in recent years to explain why acupuncture works. The studies I have read have concluded that being stuck with an acupuncture needle releases serotonin into the brain. Serotonin is a natural pain killer. If you are a woman you know the important role that serotonin plays with pain, for it correlates to estrogen, as a woman approaches her cycle her levels of estrogen will drop and she will become more sensitive to pain. Other studies have shown that it can reroute nerve signals in the brain, and thus reduce pain in the body.

The science that has been done is great, but how do either of those explanations explain how someone can come in with a swollen limb and by the end of the treatment the swelling has significantly reduced? If we go with eastern theory of acupuncture, the body is energy and has energy that we call Qi (chee), the energy flows through meridians like an elaborate sewer system. Just like in a sewer system if you get a block in one of these pipes you may have excess water above the clog and very little to no water below the clog depending on the severity. This is just like what happens to the Qi in these meridians, blockages happen because of emotional stress, overworking, diet, or trauma and causes excesses of energy in some places, and deficiencies in others. Like when someone is stressed and they have tight shoulders and cold feet. Excesses usually show up as aches and pains or outbursts of emotions. Deficiencies are more subtle like insomnia, sighing, or may be characterized by a chronic condition. In eastern medicine the brain and body are not separate. How you feel emotionally will affect you physically. Thus, when you visit your acupuncturist they will ask you a million questions that may not seem relevant, they will look at your tongue, and feel your pulse to find clues for where the excesses and deficiencies are that are causing your condition. In eastern medicine a headache isn’t caused by just one thing. Additionally, the longer you have had the condition the longer it may take to correct it and the more treatments you may need. I once had a professor say that acupuncture reminds the body how it wants to feel and sometimes it needs several reminders before it sticks. If you are coming in for a condition and it improves, but then comes back after two days, then schedule another appointment with your acupuncturist. The treatments should start to stick longer and longer and symptoms lessening with each treatment. After a certain point a maintenance treatment four times a year with the changing seasons should be all you need.

Now, I know this isn’t the case for everyone because life happens, if your back is hurting because of work or carrying a kid, and you continue to do those things, then you will probably continue to need weekly treatments to curb the pain. In that case, think of acupuncture as a medicine, you will need acupuncture at least once a week for your back pain like you would take Aleve daily for the pain. The good thing about acupuncture is that there is very few side effects to a treatment in comparison to other treatment forms. Together with your acupuncturist, you should be able to come up with a treatment plan which best suits your needs. If you have any additional questions about acupuncture please feel free to call us at the Denver location 303-777-0320 or the Golden location 303 278-0331,or email us at info@meetingpointacupuncture.com