How does acupuncture work?

A history of complex theories and explanations underlie how and why acupuncture works, including for example, the concepts of Qi and meridians. However, these explanations and theories are often unfamiliar and confusing. Five prevailing theories, as interpreted by Western scientific terminology, are described below to explain the effects of acupuncture.

These explanations are based upon “more classical” Western studies on the effects of acupuncture (i.e., the measurement of biomedical changes in the body induced by acupuncture).

Here are the main theories:

Pain signals pass through a number of high-traffic gates as they move from the area of injury through the spinal cord toward the brain. Like a road or highway, these nerves can only handle a limited number of nerve signals at one time. This theory posits that acupuncture generates competing stimuli that effectively interrupts the injury-induced pain signals from reaching the brain. This attenuates or completely blocks the sensation of injury-induced pain in patients. This is the most popular theory among Western scientists.
Acupuncture increases the circulating levels of triglycerides, specific hormones, prostaglandins, white blood cells (WBCs), gamma globulins, opsonins, and overall antibody levels. This is why acupuncture can treat disorders related to immune deficiencies. Increasing WBC populations can benefit every patient. Growing evidence continues to demonstrate that the treatment of an increasing number of conditions can benefit from acupuncture treatment. Weakened immunity is increasingly implicated in a growing number of medical conditions. Maintaining a strong immune system, which will help to suppress a myriad of age-related pathologies, is a positive by-product of all acupuncture treatments.
Acupuncture stimulates the secretion of endorphins in the body, specifically enkephalins. Endorphins are our bodies’ natural painkillers. They can elicit up to 1,000 times stronger analgesic effects compared to morphine.
Certain neurotransmitter levels, such as seratonin and noradrenaline, are affected by acupuncture. This is why acupuncture is so effective at treating depression, mood disorders, and weight loss. Serotonin levels are affected by sugar intake, and low seratonin levels might cause cravings for sugar. Similar to the way that sugar stimulates seratonin release, acupuncture also stimulates seratonin release, which is why people often feel amazing after a treatment.
Acupuncture can induce the constriction or dilation of blood vessels. It is possible that acupuncture modulates the release of the body’s natural vasodilators, such as histamine. Increasing the circulation of fresh red blood cells (RBCs) and WBCs to an injured area helps to expedite the healing process. The acupuncture effective treatment of edema is attributed to this concept of vascular dilation.
What should I expect during an acupuncture treatment?

During the initial Acupuncture session, we will take a thorough history and perform a physical exam, which includes an evaluation of the tongue and pulse. We might ask about the patient’s diet to evaluate his or her nutritional well-being and might recommend changes that include herbal supplements.

The first session, which generally takes longer than follow-up appointments, is aimed at creating a treatment plan for the specific conditions and concerns of each patient. During the follow-up appointments, we will reassess the patient’s progress and adjust the treatment plan accordingly. The initial evaluation can take up to 60-90 minutes with follow-up and maintenance appointments taking between 45-60 minutes.

Following each evaluation, the acupuncturist inserts needles at specific acupuncture points related to the patient’s symptoms. Needle insertion induces very little if any pain at all. Some patients describe a pinching, grabbing or tingling sensation, whereas other patients describe little or no sensation. The needles are fine, sterile, disposable, and are NEVER reused on other patients. This decreases the risk of spreading disease from patient-to-patient. The needles are removed at the end of the session.

Should I consult my physician about getting acupuncture?

An acupuncturist is considered a primary care provider and a referral may or may not be required for insurance purposes by your physician.

It is advisable to always inform your physician about any treatment that you are seeking. During your first consultation with your acupuncturist it is also very important to provide a list of medications and supplements that you are taking. Some physicians will also refer acupuncture and Traditional Chinese Medicine practitioners to patients.

What happens to the used needles and equipment after a session?

The needles are fine, sterile, disposable, and are NEVER reused on other patients. This decreases the risk of spreading disease from patient-to-patient. It is unprofessional conduct for an acupuncturist to use a needle more than once.

We only use FDA-approved, single-use needles that have been sterilized by the manufacturer prior to packaging. After your treatment, the needles are disposed of in a “sharps” medical waste disposal container. Furthermore, the acupuncturist is nationally certified in Clean Needle Technique by the CCAOM (Council of Colleges of Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine). This is the only national organization that certifies practitioners in Clean Needle Technique for acupuncture. Clean Needle Technique is the standard way in which acupuncture is practiced in order to keep patients and practitioners safe. You can always expect to receive the highest level of care available each time you visit Acufit.