Many people ask me why acupuncture works. There are dozens of theories and hundreds of studies have been done to try and determine just that. I’m going to go in to five of the best answers I have found over the years.
1) Ancient Chinese Secret – The ancient Chinese healers developed theories, thousands of years ago that explained why acupuncture works. Hmm, that’s not quite right. You see, I don’t think the ancients really cared all that much why it worked, they just saw that it did and then came up with theories to fit the very real effects that they were seeing in their clinics. They did not have MRI’s, or chemistry, or computers, or even a thorough understanding of anatomy and physiology as we know it today. So, they used concepts that they saw in the natural world around them and from their philosophies to describe the functioning of the body. Concepts of Yin and Yang balance, the flow of Qi or vital life energy/essence that they thought ran through the body. When Yin and Yang were out of balance or the flow of Qi was disrupted, disease ensued. They did not concern themselves with why so much and did not delve in to the actual mechanisms of action (from a physiological standpoint) as to why it works. You might as well ask “why is the sky blue” or “why do we stick to the ground”. We know the answers today (well sort of, we still do not know what gravity really is) but I think the ancients had a perspective like this: Now that we know why the sky is blue, what does that really change? They accepted what was rather than spinning their wheels finding out the why when it did not really change anything (I think that’s an Anglo-Saxon thing).
2) Today (maybe thanks to those wacky Anglos) we have some concrete physiological reason as to why acupuncture works. One of those reasons is that the acupuncture needle causes an immune response in the body. Just like if you get a splinter or a cut, the body will martial an immune response. Healing factors and enzymes are sent to the area to heal the damage and those healing factors are sent to a large area (even to the underlying organs) since the surrounding area is on a shared blood supply.
3) Stimulation of the Brain – Functional MRI’s have been taken of people’s brains while they undergo acupuncture. Different areas of the brain are affected by different acupuncture points. It is interesting to note that the MRI’s show a different reaction when acupuncture points are stimulated versus areas around them. Stimulating different areas of the brain can affect things like mood, digestion, pain and a whole host of other health problems.
4) Fascia or Connective Tissue – Fascia is connective tissue that runs throughout the body. It wraps muscles and connects them to our bones. It wraps our organs (including our brains) and is continuous throughout the body. Wrinkles, tears or other disruptions in this fascial system can affect any other area of the body, to a greater or lesser degree. Think of it like a bedsheet with a wrinkle. Trying to straighten the wrinkle at the spot of wrinkle is a futile exercise. Much easier to pull the bedsheets from the opposite side. This is like how the fascial system is influenced through acupuncture. An area of the body that might seem unrelated to the area of the complaint (such as using the wrist to treat the ankle) is an example of this.
5) Hormones – The introduction of acupuncture needles in to the body can stimulate the body to produce a wide range of hormones that can regulate everything from pain to fertility to hunger. Hormones work along with our nervous system to regulate everything that happens in our body so the ability to induce the body to produce hormones can have wide reaching effects.
For most, the why is not as important as the fact that it does work! Pain and mood problems are two of the things that we specialize in treating at Princeton Acupuncture & Oriental Medicine. If you are suffering with one of these conditions, get in touch for a consultation and while we may not be able to tell you exactly why it is working, we can certainly show you that it does!
Princeton Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine
Our patients know just how effective treatments are for these and a host of other problems. Steven Hoffman, a New Jersey Licensed Acupuncturist and Diplomate in Oriental Medicine, will provide you with a thorough intake and evaluation and a clear, comprehensive diagnosis and treatment plan that will insure that your goals are met or exceeded. Do you want to move past these or other problems? We will help you thrive not just survive!