How can tiny little needles inserted in various points on the body provide any kind of pain relief or health benefit? Exactly how does acupuncture work anyway? As a Chiropractor and Acupuncturist, these are the types of questions that I commonly hear from my patients.
I think that both of these explanations are valid and equally important in explaining this amazing healing modality.
Chinese medicine originated well over 4000 years ago and acupuncture is merely one of the branches of today what is known as Traditional Chinese Medicine or TCM. TCM is steeped in the Daoist philosophy, which acknowledges that the humans are part of a microcosm in a larger surrounding universe, which is interconnected with nature and therefore subject to its forces.
In essence, in the human body, everything is interconnected, as is everything in nature (or the universe).
This belief is why the terminology used in TCM is very tied-in with natural elements like wind, fire, water, etc. TCM theory acknowledges an energy or ‘life force’ that flows through the body called qi (pronounced chee). This qi flows through distinct pathways or ‘meridians’ throughout the body.
These meridians have specific functions and are generally named after the deeper organs that they represent, i.e. liver, kidney, stomach etc. However, in Chinese medicine these organs are not necessarily thought of in the same context as they are in Western medicine. In other words, a problem with your liver meridian does not necessarily mean that you have a liver problem from a Western viewpoint.
TCM theory can be quite complex but the general tenets are that our health is considered to be in the process of maintaining balance and harmony in the circulation of qi. These balances in the forces in nature that exist and influence our surroundings are also described in TCM as the two opposing but complementary forces called Yin and Yang.
Yin and Yang are also part of what is called the eight principles in TCM which is a system used to analyze symptoms and categorize conditions, the other components of the eight principles being cold/heat, interior/exterior, and excess/deficiency. TCM can also be explained in terms of what as known as five element theory, where the natural elements of fire, metal, earth, water, and wood which correspond to particular organs and body functions, and how their interrelationship is important in the maintenance of our health.
Using the above principle combined with a specific history, a treatment can then be formulated. The most common methods of treatment in TCM are Chinese herbal medicine and acupuncture.
In TCM terms acupuncture works by stimulating specific points on the body by inserting thin needles into these points, which are located on the meridians. When there is pain or a disease process, this is looked at in terms of things going out of balance in the body. This may manifest as a ‘blockage’ in the flow of qi. Acupuncture stimulates the flow of qi and helps restore balance in the meridians thereby helping to restore health.
In part 2 of this blog, I will discuss the Western or modern day explanation of acupuncture.