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How Does Acupuncture Really Work?

How does Acupuncture Really Work?

Patients ask me this question all the time. I find that there are usually two definitions. The allopathic/medical definition, and then the Eastern Medicine definition. I prefer the Eastern Medicine definition. Eastern medicine does not focus on signs and symptoms like Western medicine. Eastern medicine believes the whole body works as one unit and when one system is deficient or weak, it can lead to other systems reacting. They believe in balancing this energy to achieve and optimal environment for the body to function. I can go into the many chemicals and details, but sometimes I like to break it down into the simplest forms.

Acupuncture is based on energy channels called Meridians. Meridians house this electrical energy like nerves, but nerves are encapsulated, and meridians are more free. Sometimes I describe meridian energy like static electricity. It is energy surrounding an object, you don’t see it, but if you touch it you will get a shocked. Think of your body as a big piece of land and there are rivers running all the way through it. The rivers are the meridians and the water is the energy.

Now let’s imagine some beavers built a dam across on of the rivers (meridians). You begin to have too much water on one side of the land and everything becomes damaged, flooded, and over saturated to the point it becomes non-functional or over stimulated. On the other side, you have no water and all the plants begin to die, the ground begins to dry up and become brittle. This is kind of what happened in the body.  Something is blocking the energy flow and either it is being over stimulated like nerves tingling or inflammation, or it is under stimulated and organs glands and muscles begin to die. The point of acupuncture is to break away the dam and allow the water to flow freely. Nourishing the side that was deficient/dried up and relieving the side that was over saturated.

As I had said before, your body is covered with many meridians or channels, just like the land having multiple rivers flowing through it. Some of these rivers even connect at one point. Meridians do the same thing. Therefore, we can treat so many different areas of the body with needles and get the same results.

There are many types of acupuncture treatments or styles: Japanese, Chinese, Korean, French ear points. There are also many types of Acupuncture devices: needles, laser, moxibustion, acupressure, ear needles, electricity, cupping, tapping, reflexology, and more. Every style and every device is based on the practitioners training. Personally, I use more Japanese style. My style is more formula based on your symptoms and I use needles that go into the skin shallowly. I find Chinese is more about balancing the body and their needles may penetrate more deeply. I even use French ear points that correlate to the anatomy of the body and different energy points. This is why you may go to one acupuncturist and another one will treat the same condition differently. We are all aiming toward the same results but may be approaching it in different directions.

When you come in for your first acupuncture treatment, many doctors will ask you different and strange questions, that may not even relate to your symptoms. These questions help guide us to which Meridian (river) we want to travel down to break up those dams. Some may also look at your tongue, eyes, hands, skin and listen to your pulse on your wrists. These are all forms of diagnosis for conditions. 

I personally have treated people who have been diagnosed by a medical doctor, but my acupuncture evaluation revealed it was an incorrect diagnosis. I am not trying to insult the doctor, yet we are looking at all the systems of the body and not just one symptom.  Sometimes the acupuncture lets us know that the pain is originating from one area but referring to the area you are complaining about, therefore, it is not being treated correctly. I find acupuncture to be an amazing art, because it really is an art. There are so many avenues of treatment and diagnosis.

The World Health Organization has indicated we need to do at least 10 treatments for an acute condition. Therefore, most patients will ask how long does it take to see results? Acupuncture is not a cut and dry treatment plan. It is 100% based on your body and your body’s health. Some patient see results in one treatment, some patient may take 20 treatments. It really depends on the condition. How long you have had it, what you have done for it, and the state of your own physical health. I usually tell my patients they will notice some difference in their condition between the 3rd and 5th visit. If they do not notice any changes, we may have to explore a different diagnosis or treatment plan. That is what is wonderful about acupuncture.

If you are interested in more information about acupuncture. Please visit our website: or and listen to our podcast: “The Common Sense Doctor”.