How Does Acupuncture Work?
Understanding how this ancient Chinese health method works has been challenging to modern science. There are two ways to look at the question. On one hand, an ancient explanation is available to describe this treatment using terms like qi energy and meridians, none of which are recognized by clinical researchers. On the other hand, scientists have attempted to explain the phenomenon using standard medical terms.
According to traditional Chinese medicine, our bodies’ life force depends on a balanced flow of energy. This energy may be called qi, blood, or electrical energy from the nervous system. Under this system of belief, qi can become blocked, which causes painful sensations or loss of function in various body parts. From this perspective, an acupuncturist’s job is to remove blockages to make qi or blood circulate better, which is said to restore a healthy balance to the body.
Science explains this differently. In the 1970s, scientists identified endorphins as the chemicals that relieve pain and produce pleasure. Research suggests that properly performed acupuncture can produce a rush of endorphins that can relieve certain kinds of painful discomfort, as well as nausea. Exactly how these tiny pins cause an endorphin rush is not known. There are some in the scientific community who doubt the therapy has any special effect at all, which will be discussed later.
The practice has proven difficult to investigate. There are two main reasons for this. The first is that different practitioners use different numbers of acupoints, recommend different numbers of sessions, and hold those sessions for longer or shorter durations, making comparison difficult. The second challenge to researchers is that peoples’ beliefs and expectations, as well as how they feel about their therapist, may impact how effectively their conditions seem to them to be impacted by the treatment.