Like HowStuffWorks on Facebook!

Traditional Chinese Medicine Acupuncture


Acupuncture is based on the flow of qi, or vital energy, through pathways in the body known as channels, or meridians. Twelve regular meridians correspond to each of the six yin and six yang organs -- the spleen meridian to the spleen organ, the large intestine meridian to the large intestine organ, and so on. Eight extra meridians are also used in acupuncture therapy.

Disharmony in an organ often shows up in its corresponding meridian: A person experiencing a heart attack may also have a sensation of pain and numbness that travels down the arm into the little finger, closely following the path of the heart meridian. Practitioners palpate a diagnostic point on the corresponding meridian to assess the health of its related organ. In other cases, the meridians themselves are treated.

A practitioner might treat a sore shoulder by increasing the flow of qi and blood through the large intestine, lung, and triple burner meridians. The organs related to these meridians may be completely healthy; these meridians are selected because they pass through the injured shoulder area.

Although they flow deep within the body, each meridian has specific points that can be accessed from the surface of the body. There are 361 such acupuncture points on the meridians, as well as numerous "extraordinary" points that may or may not be located on a regular channel. In addition, a full set of points on the ears represent all the organs in the body and can be used to treat a wide variety of medical conditions. Use of these points is known as auriculotherapy.

acupuncture
Acupuncture needles made of stainless steel may be
coated in copper to add other benefits to treatment. See more
pictures of acupuncture.

Acupuncture points can be stimulated by means of pressure, heat, or needling. Each point has a specific set of functions. Some of these functions have local effects, while some are systemic (affecting the body's systems as a whole). For example, the stomach meridian consists of 45 points, stretching from the head to the toes. A point just below the knee known as Dubi, or Stomach 35, is used almost exclusively for knee pain (a local effect), while the point just three inches below it, known as Zusanli (Stomach 36), has a systemic function.

One of the most important points in acupuncture, Zusanli is used to treat stomach pain, vomiting, indigestion, diarrhea, constipation, dizziness, fatigue, and low immunity. Needling it often relieves stomach pain immediately. Modern research has confirmed that applying moxa or needles to this point actually raises the white blood cell count (white blood cells fight disease-causing organisms that invade the body).

Acupuncture has been practiced since ancient times with needles made from stone, wood, ivory, or bone. Modern practitioners use surgical-quality stainless steel needles with a handle wound with wire for a better grip. Some needles are plated with silver, gold, or copper to achieve special effects from the treatment, such as tonification or sedation, but the majority of needles are pure steel.

In the past, needles were placed in an autoclave, a device used to sterilize dental and surgical tools, after each use. However, with the increase in prevalence of hepatitis and AIDS/HIV, most practitioners in the West now use presterilized disposable needles to ensure absolute safety. The needles are used only once and then discarded as medical waste, which gives peace of mind to the patients, practitioners, and insurance companies.

Research in China and Japan with electrical conductivity has confirmed the tangible existence of the acupuncture points (in fact, some practitioners use "point locators" to find the exact location of an acupuncture point based on the change in electrical conductivity at the site of the point), and double-blind studies have shown acupuncture is safe and effective in treating a wide range of diseases.

The World Health Organization (WHO) has compiled a list of ailments for which acupuncture treatment is effective. Of course, acupuncture is especially well known for its treatment of pain; it is so effective for pain relief, it is even used as a substitute for anesthesia in some surgical procedures in Chinese hospitals!

In this article, you will learn about how acupuncture works and the techniques practitioners use to make acupuncture virtually painless. You can also check out the list of illnesses that acupuncture effectively treats.

For more about traditional Chinese medicine, treatments, cures, beliefs, and other interesting topics, see:

This information is solely for informational purposes. IT IS NOT INTENDED TO PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. Neither the Editors of Consumer Guide (R), Publications International, Ltd., the author nor publisher take responsibility for any possible consequences from any treatment, procedure, exercise, dietary modification, action or application of medication which results from reading or following the information contained in this information. The publication of this information does not constitute the practice of medicine, and this information does not replace the advice of your physician or other health care provider. Before undertaking any course of treatment, the reader must seek the advice of their physician or other health care provider.


More to Explore