The energy is called chi, and it is considered to be essential for overall health and vitality. The stimulation is done by inserting small hair thin needles into very specific acupuncture points. Not only is the stimulation pain free, it is often reported to create feelings of deep relaxation.
Although this has been a predominant treatment in Chinese medicine for thousands of years, it’s still in its infancy in western medicine. However, the success of acupuncture is reflected in just how popular it is becoming. There are now dozens of medical acupuncture textbooks, hundreds of research papers and foundations for western medical acupuncture (http://www.medicalacupuncture.org/). Some of the most common conditions that are successfully treated with acupuncture are low back pain, neck pain and headaches.
Western medical acupuncture and traditional Chinese acupuncture are practiced very similarly. However, there are some differences in regard to the philosophy of how it works. Whereas Chinese medicine talks about energy and life force, western medicine talks in terms of nervous system reflexes. For example, inserting the acupuncture needles stimulates small nerve receptors in the skin. They are so small that they don’t actually stimulate the pain receptors. Instead, they stimulate receptors that release the body’s own natural pain relievers i.e. endorphins. Brain imaging even shows that pain centers in the brain become less active during acupuncture sessions.
There is also the idea that needle stimulation helps to bring more blood flow and circulation to the areas. The body probably recognizes the needles as a foreign object and that brings about a quick surge of the body’s natural healing response. This version doesn’t sound too far off from the Chinese idea of bringing ‘life force’ energy into the area. Although the ancient model may sound a little hokey, it’s important to understand that it is around 2000 years old. Modern physiology can describe it a little better, however, there is still so much that just can’t be explained.
For a more in depth look, please read my blog post, “Acupuncture and How it Works.” In it I describe my own thoughts on how acupuncture is so beneficial. Specifically, I introduce the concept of relaxation, stress reduction and the facilitation of a mind-body connection.