Acupuncture Mechanisms of Action
Several processes have been proposed to explain acupuncture's effects, primarily
those on pain. Acupuncture points are believed to stimulate the central nervous
system (the brain and spinal cord) to release chemicals into the muscles, spinal
cord, and brain. These chemicals either change the experience of pain or release
other chemicals, such as hormones, that influence the body's self-regulating
systems. The biochemical changes may stimulate the body's natural healing
abilities and promote physical and emotional well-being. There are three main
Conduction of electromagnetic signals: Western scientists have found evidence
that acupuncture points are strategic conductors of electromagnetic signals.
Stimulating points along these pathways through acupuncture enables
electromagnetic signals to be relayed at a greater rate than under normal
conditions. These signals may start the flow of pain-killing biochemicals, such
as endorphins, and of immune system cells to specific sites in the body that are
injured or vulnerable to disease.
Activation of opioid systems: Research has found that several types of opioids
may be released into the central nervous system during acupuncture treatment,
thereby reducing pain.
Changes in brain chemistry, sensation, and involuntary body functions: Studies
have shown that acupuncture may alter brain chemistry by changing the release of
neurotransmitters and neurohormones. Acupuncture also has been documented to
affect the parts of the central nervous system related to sensation and
involuntary body functions, such as immune reactions and processes whereby a
person's blood pressure, blood flow, and body temperature are regulated.
Preclinical studies have documented acupuncture's effects, but they have not
been able to fully explain how acupuncture works within the framework of the
Western system of medicine.
According to the National Institute of Health Consensus Statement on
"Acupuncture as a therapeutic intervention is widely practiced in the United
States. While there have been many studies of its potential usefulness, many of
these studies provide equivocal results because of design, sample size, and
other factors. The issue is further complicated by inherent difficulties in the
use of appropriate controls, such as placebos and sham acupuncture groups.
However, promising results have emerged, for example, showing efficacy of
acupuncture in adult postoperative and chemotherapy nausea and vomiting and in
postoperative dental pain. There are other situations such as addiction, stroke
rehabilitation, headache, menstrual cramps, tennis elbow, fibromyalgia,
myofascial pain, osteoarthritis, low back pain, carpal tunnel syndrome, and
asthma, in which acupuncture may be useful as an adjunct treatment or an
acceptable alternative or be included in a comprehensive management program.
Further research is likely to uncover additional areas where acupuncture
interventions will be useful."
Increasingly, acupuncture is complementing conventional therapies. For example,
doctors may combine acupuncture and drugs to control surgery-related pain in
their patients. By providing both acupuncture and certain conventional
anesthetic drugs, some doctors have found it possible to achieve a state of
complete pain relief for some patients. They also have found that using
acupuncture lowers the need for conventional pain-killing drugs and thus reduces
the risk of side effects for patients who take the drugs
Despite the powerful technology available today, even the modern physicists
cannot explain exactly how this ancient healing therapy works. Perhaps in the
near future, the actual chemical and electromagnetic events that occur during
acupuncture will be described.
Please also see
How Acupuncture Works?
Excerpt from "Acupuncture: an ancient treatment for a current problem" by Paulo
Zanardi, AP from
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