What is acupuncture?” and “How does it work?” are two of the paramount questions people have. Of course, the other most significant questions are: “Can you help me?” “How long will it take?” and “How much will it cost?” Since every case is different as to cost and length of treatment, and the possibility of helping the patient varies to the extent of the condition, the only thing that might be explained generically is what acupuncture is.
Before I offer the “answers” to this question, I would like to start with asking – why ask the question at all? As individuals we are looking for answers to our various health issues, as practitioners we are looking for the most effective treatments, and as researchers we are looking at the how and why of the results that appear in clinics around the world. From many perspectives a strong western scientific understanding of acupuncture is unnecessary and possibly even impractical if not detrimental. After all, the medicine has survived for over 3000 years without detailed western scientific understandings. The problem with trying to explain acupuncture with “science” is we are limited to what we believe we know. It has only been within the last 50 years or so that anyone was even concerned with trying to understand the biochemical mechanisms of acupuncture. Most people just ask the question out of curiosity or to pass the time with other fear driven questions until the first needle is inserted and they realize it doesn’t hurt.
In order to keep from mixing up terms and adding to confusion, I will try to explain it, in Chinese medicine terms.
The basics of Chinese medicine are based on yin and yang. Basically, it has to do with balance. Acupuncture is thought to be 5000 years old with many books dating back 2-3000 years. As you can imagine, there were not many microscopes back then. The physicians of the day had to rely on observation. They used colorful terminology to explain conditions in the body. Terms they understood in relation to phenomena they observed in nature. This is why you may hear terms like “Wind” or “Heat” in the body to explain pain or inflammation.
The simplest, although not 100% accurate explanation I can offer on how acupuncture works is this: Acupuncture works by balancing meridians in the body. Meridians are energy pathways that connect organs and how energy and communication flows around the body and between organs. Changes in this circulation can cause disfunction. We use acupuncture points, massage, herbs, diet food therapy, exercise, etc… To restore balance in the meridians.
If this is the first exposure to “how acupuncture works” the explanation may have actually created more questions than answered them. Another example may help pain a picture. Lets say someone drinks a 6 pack of beer daily. We know that the liver has to metabolize the alcohol. So there is more energy being sent to the liver because it is more active and working harder. After years of this, the liver can become stagnated. An imbalance occurs.
Imbalances occur long before pain or disease manifest. Long before there is disease, long before dysfunction shows up on a blood test, there is an imbalance. It starts small. Smalls signs. Changes in the pulse. Changes in the tongue. Changes in sleep, digestion, energy, etc..
Chinese medicine physicians didn’t have blood tests. They developed keen observation skills to uncover imbalances before disease set in.
There have been studies to explain how acupuncture works. There are some theories and many of them do give a good explanation of part of the way it works. However, none of them explain it fully, which is why I often explain in Chinese medicine terms.
Acupuncture and Chinese medicine has been around for thousands of years. It can be used to treat a wide variety of imbalances. Find out what it can do for you.
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