This is a question that is raised very often by patients who come by our centre for treatment. I have tried using various illustrations to explain the mechanism of acupuncture but there are times when I find that the patients find themselves with more questions, albeit unasked less they be subjected to another barrage of unfamiliar terms like Qi, Channels and Meridians.

How Acupuncture Works - The Layman's Version

I was therefore delighted when I came across this illustration presented by Joseph Acquah of the University of California, San Francisco at the Pacific Symposium, one of the main education and trade event for the traditional and complementary health industry in the United States.

So How Does Acupuncture Work?

Imagine your body as a sovereign country. The skin is the border to your country. And when the skin gets broken, the body sends out soldiers to defend the borders.

First, a blood clotting factor gets released, so you don’t bleed to death. Then there is a knitting factor that gets released to begin knitting the skin back together. Some white blood cells get sent to the area, to make sure that infection doesn’t spread into the body. There is an increase in the production of cells to form new skin, we call it a scab or scar tissue. An analgesic gets released to reduce pain and stop you from going into shock. And after a day you have a little thin scab. And after a couple of days it is thicker, and then after a week or so it goes away, and we have nice normal tissue again.

All this happens automatically. Sometimes we look down and there is a scab and we don’t even remember doing anything to cause it. So the body has done it without our thinking about it. This indicates that we have a system inside of us, that is always there taking care of us. All us acupuncturists are doing is tapping into that system, and marshalling it into action for you. We break the skin, but in very specific point, which will then marshal that defensive system into action for you. That is acupuncture in a nutshell.

Even the surgeon who cuts you, depends upon what is referred to in Western medicine as the “primary healing system.” Primary meaning, first, as in the first wave of defence. The surgeon knows, and depends upon the fact that when he or she cuts the body, it will mend itself back together.

How Does Acupuncture Feel?

There are about five sensations that you can feel with acupuncture. When the needle is first put in, there may be a slight prick, like plucking a hair. Then you may feel tingling or numbing like sensation. Sometimes it will shoot like electricity, like you hit your funny bone, and that will be the most disturbing sensation, but each of these will just last a couple of seconds and be gone. And on occasion you may feel a heavy or aching sensation. These are all normal, and have been noted over thousands of years.

Before the patient leaves the treatment room, I let them know that they may feel little twitches or tingling in their bodies, over the next 24 to 48 hours, and that is just the treatment working. In addition they may feel like sleeping earlier that night. These are all normal experiences.

A Bonus Illustration – Channels & Meridians

Sometimes a patient may then ask about how the Meridian system works.

Imagine a map of the city and one normally thinks of a road map with all the streets and intersections laid out. And that is one type of map of the city. Now think of a “topographical map of the city.” And, in it you see the hills and valleys, rivers and lakes, peaks and streams. It is the same terrain or territory, but you are getting totally different information about it.

The first map, the road map, can be compared to what we, you, I, and the Western doctors know about the anatomy of the human body. The second map or topographical map is what we, as acupuncturists, are looking at when we see the body. This is what we call the meridians or channels of the body. They are interconnections within and of the same territory, but with different information than what the road map provides. These are the connections to that primary healing system.

You may be familiar with the old song. “The toe bone connected to the foot bone, and the foot bone is connected to the ankle bone.” Well, that is the way we see the body.

Now what do you think of the illustrations above?


How Acupuncture Works – The Layman’s Version
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