To gain an understanding of how needles and acupuncture points work, we look back toward acupuncture’s roots. The ancient Chinese believed in a universal life energy, called Qi, which is present in every living creature. It makes up the spiritual, emotional, physical, and mental aspects of our lives. In our healthy bodies, it flows freely along twelve pathways, known as meridians. It is when these energy pathways become blocked that things fall out of balance for various reasons and we run into problems like pain and illness. By inserting needles in specific points along the meridians, acupuncturists seek to restore the free, healthy flow of Qi.
There are several possible theories explaining how acupuncture works…
Strengthens the immune system
The body responds to the acupuncture needle by increasing blood flow to the area, regulating the levels of triglycerides, specific hormones, prostaglandins, gamma globulins, and overall antibody levels. This in turn strengthens the immune system.
Acupuncture stimulates the secretion of endorphins in the body. Endorphins are the body’s natural painkillers, up to 10x stronger than morphine.
Stimulated by acupuncture, neurotransmitters such as serotonin and noradrenalin help the body cope with stress. This is why acupuncture is successful with depression and mood disorders.
Acupuncture can help to regulate blood flow. It has the effect of constricting or dilating blood vessels; this may be caused by the body’s release of vasodilators (such as histamine) in response to acupuncture.
The Gate Control Theory
According to this theory, pain signals must pass through a number of high traffic “gates” as they move from the area of injury to the spinal cord, and up to the brain. These nerve highways can handle only a limited number of nerve signals at one time. Acupuncture generates competing stimulus and the overload prevents the pain signals from reaching the brain.