Acupuncture involves the insertion of hair-thin needles to various "points" on the body. It works to alleviate pain and other sensation type symptoms (numbness, tingling, etc.) by balancing out the relative location on the body. For example pain in the head is often relieved by treating the feet, knee pain by treating the elbow and so on. This is one way acupuncture works.
Another way is by improving circulation through a tense or sore area such as a shoulder, hip or the low back. This happens when the fine needles help the muscles or tissues in which they are placed to relax. When the tissues relax, vasodilation occurs and there is better blood flow bringing more oxygen and nutrients to the tissues.
A third way in which acupuncture works is by regulating feedback loops in the body. Stimulation of the acupuncture fine-needles is picked up by the nervous system. Nerve conduction then relays a signal back through central processing areas such as the brain, gut and spinal cord. This stimulation triggers a reduction of stress induced nervous system activity. Through this method of treatment the body is triggered to re-calibrate itself and symptoms such as sleep difficulties, anxiety, depression, digestive problems, menstrual problems and even endocrine and auto-immune illness will often improve.
How does acupuncture fit into the context of Chinese Medicine?
The primary tools of Chinese medicine are qigong exercise prescription, tuina massage/bodywork, acupuncture, herbal therapy and diet, exercise and lifestyle suggestion.
A good Chinese medicine doctor can look at a complicated problem and make it as simple as night and day. This is because they see the relativity of every situation and address it as a matter of balance - like a seesaw tilting either one way or the other.
A good doctor knows that healing is a living process and wellness is a journey. In treatment they take one step at a time. They begin by assessing exactly where the patient is in that moment and end a few steps closer to them feeling their best. Often the few steps that happen in one treatment session are enough to head the patient in the right direction on the road to wellness. Then subsequent sessions build on that momentum until help is no longer needed to keep up with the pace of health.
Acupuncture is such a powerful and effective tool for initiating healing that many practitioners use it as a primary method of healthcare. Having multiple tools in the kit however is helpful for continuing progress in between acupuncture sessions. Many patients also appreciate being involved in their own care with special diet, exercise and herbal recommendations
A Chinese medicine practice focuses first on understanding a patient’s health condition and the multitude of factors influencing their body, mind and spirit. Then a range of tools may be used to profoundly shift their immediate experience in a positive direction. In this way the practice is holistic and not only alleviates pain and illness to improve daily health but also contributes to long-term wellness.