How Does Acupuncture Work?


Acupuncture may affect your body in a number of different ways. Western medical research has provided a number of theories on how acupuncture may affect the body and produce positive and beneficial results. A few of these theories include:

  • Acupuncture improves circulation. Acupuncture improves blood flow and circulation throughout the body. Studies show that it can increase blood flow and vasodilation (through release of histamine). Blood carries important nutrients to different areas of the body, including oxygen, iron, hormones, painkillers, and nutrition from the food that we eat. Moreover, increased flow of red and white blood cells and natural anti-inflammatory agents in the blood to an injured area can help that area heal more quickly.
  • Natural pain killer release. Some studies suggest that acupuncture may help release the body’s natural painkillers—enkephalins, norepinephrine, and endorphins. These natural substances help you feel good.
  • Competing stimulus. On a neurological level, when you experience pain, your body must transmit a pain signal from nerves or neurons in the part of your body experiencing pain, to your spinal cord, and finally to your brain. These neural pathways can only process so much stimuli at once. If acupuncture provides a positive, competing stimulus, this theory suggests that it may then lessen the pain you experience.
  • Acupuncture resets muscles that are tight or weak. Acupuncturists often needle “motor points” on muscles. These are points where the electrical activity of a muscle is highest. By inserting a metal needle, which conducts electricity, into a “motor point,” acupuncture can cause the muscle to reset and go back to its natural length and strength.
  • Increasing immunity and overall wellness. Acupuncture may increase levels of white blood cells, certain hormones, antibodies, prostaglandins, and more. These substances can help a person fight off disease or illness, and may help strengthen the body and increase general health.
  • Neurotransmitter modulation. Acupuncture can affect the levels of certain neurotransmitters, such as serotonin and dopamine, which help a person feel happy and stress-free. Release of another hormone, oxytocin, can stimulate the body’s parasympathetic nervous system, which helps us rest and relax.

These theories are just some of the more common ideas of how acupuncture works. Ongoing research on acupuncture’s effects on the body can be found by searching medical databases, such as Pubmed. Also, the Society for Acupuncture Research publishes summaries of many new acupuncture research studies on its website. Feel free to check these resources out and search for research on whatever topics you’re interested in. Also, if you want to know what acupuncture can be used to treat, see:

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