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Ancient Tibetan Chart of Acupunture Points
(Click to Enlarge)

Acupunture - What it is and how it works.

Acupuncture is premised upon the belief that there are meridians (pathways) in the body, through which our vital energy, which is known as chi, flows. When this flow is smooth and uninhibited we are in a state of health. When this flow becomes disrupted we enter into a state of disharmony. How long and how serious this disruption is, as well as the individual’s basic health, determines the seriousness of the problem.

For most Westerners this is not an easy concept to grasp. But Chi, this life force, is very evident. Any one who has seen a dead animal, knows what it means to either have this life force energy or not. This is even evidenced when that life force is weakened, as in the case of very ill persons. The more you allow yourself to notice this energy, the clearer it becomes.

For thousands of years the Chinese have been writing about Chi, in their medical books. They also have explained anatomically the location of the acupuncture points and the meridians through which the chi flows. There are many ancient illustrations and even sculptures depicting the meridians and the points along them. But it was not until the recent invention of heat sensitive photography, called Kirlian, that we could actually detect the meridians and photograph them. Sure enough, there they are, exactly as they have been shown to exist by the old medical Chinese texts from centuries ago!

To better understand how acupuncture works, let’s look at three examples. One minor, one serious, and one intermediate. A minor example could be if you bump into something. First you feel pain, then the place you hit begins to get red, ache, swell and bruise. The second might be a case in which you lift something heavy or are in an accident and you hurt your back so badly that you are in severe pain, can’t move, and must lie in bed for several days. Lastly let’s consider someone who begins with the symptom of stiffness in the joints. Over many months this stiffness grows progressively worse and becomes painful as well. This case scenario can end with the person being in constant, severe pain with joints so swollen and misshapen, that it becomes difficult, or not even possible, to move.

Let’s look at how acupuncture works to help heal these conditions. To understand how placing acupuncture needles at various places in the skin can help a person heal, we must know what the needles actually do. First I’d like to premise this by saying that in the west we tend to associate all needles with large painful injection needles. Our only experience has been either with having blood drawn from, or a substance (vaccines, intravenous drugs, etc.) administered through these needles. This type of needle needs to be hollow since they are taking fluids out of us, or putting fluids in. They therefore must be large, and are very painful. This is not true of acupuncture needles, which are very thin, small, bendable and delicate.

Acupuncture needles are extremely fine. Smaller then a hair! In most cases they can be placed in the body without your even feeling them! What you may feel is best described as a small electrical charge as your chi (energy) rushes to greet the needle. When needles are placed in the body several things happen. All of them have to do with getting your stuck energy back into that state of normal, harmonious flow, which is the state of health and well being.

Pain is your body’s way of signaling you that something is wrong. That there is a malfunction. When needles are placed in the sight of pain they;
a) Cause the blood vessels to dilate. This increases blood flow to the area. The blood carries oxygen and nutrients so the supply of these are also increased.
b)They get the chi moving which removes the energy blockage
c) They release muscle contraction and tension. This allows the body to go back into its natural state since even a slight muscle contraction can pull the body out of it’s natural alignment.
d) The combination of muscle release, increased circulation (blood flow, body fluids, and chi) releases the local pressure on the peripheral nerves thereby reducing pain.
e)Needling triggers the endorphin release mechanism. Endorphins are those neural opiates produced endogenously (naturally by the body). These endogenous opiates interact at different levels in the central nervous system to inhibit pain perception and pain transmission from the spinal cord. These neuro chemicals, especially Beta Endorphins, are the most potent pain relieving substances known. They are many times more powerful then opium.

Now let’s look at the three problems mentioned earlier and see how acupuncture can help these conditions. First, the case of the bump. Any handling of the area would be extremely painful. Since the needles can be administered with no pressure or handling it is the least painful alternative.

The needles will get the energy, which was blocked by the blow, moving again. The trauma to the area causes extravasation (escaping) of fluids (serum, blood and lymph) into the surrounding tissues. The needles begin to circulate these fluids, which would otherwise stagnate at the trauma site and result in swelling. The needles also begin the endorphin release to ease the pain. All of these factors will lessen pain, swelling and bruising. It will also speed the healing process.

Now let’s see how acupuncture helps the injured back. In this case there is sure to be muscle contraction. This contraction can be so severe as to pull on the vertebrae misaligning the bones and discs. This creates impingements on the nerves causing severe pain. Needles placed within the tight muscles causes them to “let go” and relax. This works by bringing more blood and oxygen into the area, and getting the blocked chi moving again. If there is inflammation due to extravasted fluids the needles get the fluids moving thereby reducing the swelling and inflammation.

The muscles are now feeling the needles and this causes a juxtaposition. It’s a bit like trying to think of an elephant and also do a math problem. The muscles cannot stay in a contracted state with the relaxation brought about by the needles. As the muscles relax the pull on the vertebra ceases. This releases the nerve impingement. The release of the endorphins helps with the pain. The patient will have a quicker (sometimes instant) recovery.

In the last case the patient began with stiff joints that progressed into a debilitating case of crippling arthritis. The “stuck joints” are areas of very blocked chi. The needles will unblock that chi, enabling it to resume normal movment. The inflammation is accompanied by swelling due to the interstitial fluid build up. This also causes difficulty in movement and pressure on the peripheral nerves which results in pain. The needles get those fluids moving to reduce the swelling and inflammation. They will also release the endorphins which will help with the pain. Since this is a chronic ailment it is likely to take many sessions to correct.

The earlier the patient would have begun treatment, the better and faster the results would have been. This case differs from the other two because it’s cause is endogenous, meaning it comes from within the body. The other two cases where exogenously caused since they where results of external trauma.

Although acupuncture is relatively new to us in America, it’s been well known throughout Asia for centuries. It has been practiced in France since the 16th century when the Jesuit priests brought it back from China. The effectiveness of acupuncture has been proven over the centuries. It is a fascinating art that takes years to learn and a life time to master. Acupuncture makes up a large part of the Chinese Medical System. This is a simplified explanation of how acupuncture works. I hope it will be of help to you.

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