Acupuncture needles are very fine – usually the diameter of a human hair, although they come in different lengths and diameters. Acupuncture needles are inserted into specific points (acupoints) on the surface of the skin which relate either to internal organ systems or to specific conditions. There are approximately 365 acupoints located along the body’s fourteen principal meridians. (There are also “extra” acupoints, ear acupoints, hand, foot, and scalp acupoints, and others.) Meridians are essentially energy channels, along which the body’s life-force energy called “qi” flows. (Qi is also spelled “chi,” and pronounced “chee”). The acupuncturist will select a combination of acupoints along one or more meridians based on the condition(s) being treated.
By stimulating acupoints, qi is manipulated in order to achieve therapeutic results. Qi that is flowing in the “wrong” direction can be redirected, for example in the treatment of nausea. Qi that is “stuck” and therefore causing pain can be mobilized to flow freely through the affected area. In Chinese medicine theory, the fundamental substance of blood also flows in the acupuncture meridians, so acupuncture can be used to manipulate blood-related imbalances such as menstrual discomfort.
Even though Western science has not yet determined the mechanism by which acupuncture works, a number of interesting correlations have been scientifically demonstrated. For example, if a machine that detects electromagnetic force is dragged along a meridian, the acupoints always register a lower electromagnetic level than the surrounding area. This means that the acupoints which were sensed by Chinese medicine practitioners more than 3,000 years ago are also detectable with a scientific instrument. Blood tests have demonstrated that acupuncture needle stimulation is associated with increased levels of serotonin, L-dopa, and other neurotransmitters in the brain, which could explain the pain-reducing effects of acupuncture. And cutting-edge research done with functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) demonstrates that acupoint stimulation at a distal point on the body will cause a reaction in the brain. For example, if an acupoint on the foot which traditionally addresses eye problems is stimulated by needling, the vision area of the brain will be demonstrably affected.