How Does Acupuncture Work?

The director of The Acupuncture Clinic  in Hastings, Hawkes Bay, is a former lecturer in acupuncture.

Heiko Lade explains to us how acupuncture works.

Heiko Lade speaking at local Napier Rotary Club meeting

Heiko Lade speaking at local Napier Rotary Club meeting

There are two ways to look at it, one is from a western medical perspective and the other is from a traditional viewpoint.

Traditional theories of acupuncture and the modern scientific view of the body over lap in many ways which is being confirmed by modern research.

There are numerous  ancient  Chinese medicine theories that preceded modern medicine discoveries by centuries.  For instance, ancient Chinese doctors stressed the importance of treating migraines to prevent  strokes in later life. Modern medicine has only recently  confirmed the correlation between strokes and migraines. 

 How does acupuncture work – from a traditional viewpoint

The body has a series of acupuncture meridians or channels that flow through the body like a network of railway tracks. These meridians connect with all the major organs as well as with each other. On these railway tracks (meridians), there are railway stations (acupuncture points). Each acupuncture point has a special purpose; to treat a particular problem.

Imagine if a railway station was blocked for some reason. People wouldn’t be able to reach the station, nor pass through the station to their destination. Slowly, business would be disrupted. If the tracks were repaired and the trains began running again, order would resume. It’s the same with acupuncture points, if there is a blockage at one of the points, the problem is seen further along the meridian. This is why an acupuncture point in the hand or foot can treat a headache, because the channel flows to the head.

Often, there are numerous blockages at many acupuncture points. Some acupuncture points lie deeply in the body and others closer to the surface. Over the centuries, the Chinese have accumulated diagnostic theories associated with the meridians that belong to specific organs. For example, headaches might be attributed to the liver and other times to the spleen; different points will be selected for different people. Acupuncture also balances yin and yang.

How does acupuncture  work – from a modern perspective

Over the last 30 years, research has demonstrated that various acupuncture activities are effective, but it doesn’t explain how acupuncture works. French researchers, more than 10 years ago, were able to demonstrate that the traditional acupuncture meridians did actually exist where the old text books said they were. They did this after injecting patients with a radio-active dye and doing a special X-Ray. Other researchers have demonstrated that at acupuncture points, with certain machines they could measure a different electrical conductivity. By stimulating certain acupuncture points, endorphins have been shown to be released. This is believed to be one reason to explain the pain relieving and analgesic benefits of acupuncture.

One of the most exciting findings to come out of research into acupuncture is the release of, and increased number of free floating stem cells in the blood stream. It has also been demonstrated that moxibustion, a technique using a heated herbal stick near acupuncture points, can actually cause stem cell proliferation. This is believed to explain the rejuvenation and regeneration effects that occur with acupuncture and moxibustion treatment.

Is there more to acupuncture than just needles?

In addition, a traditional acupuncture treatment can include  cupping and  gua sha. There is also a specialised method of using a slight electrical stimulation on the acupuncture points known as  electro-acupuncture treatment.

What about acupressure?

Acupressure is part of medical Chinese massage known as Tui Na. In Chinese hospitals, they do not have physiotherapy wards but they have Tui Na wards instead.

What about Chinese herbs?

In China, the term, Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) means acupuncture and  Chinese herbal medicine.

Chinese herbal medicine has evolved over the centuries from a trial and error process. Many ancient Chinese physicians became  famous because they experimented on themselves. They often drank herbs to see how the herbs affected them and wrote down what happened. There are nearly two thousand years of recorded literature documenting the effects of herbs on patients. Chinese herbal medicines are, for example, categorised as hot and cold, or as herbs that strengthen the body by providing nourishment, or as herbs that disperse and eliminate toxins.

Who can I see in New Zealand that is experienced and qualified to treat with acupuncture?

In New Zealand, qualified acupuncturists are assessed by the New Zealand Register of Acupuncturists Inc (NZRA) which is now also known as Acupuncture New Zealand. Members have completed an equivalent of 4 years full time extensive training, including hundreds of hours of supervised clinical training. Part of their training includes being able to use moxibustion, cupping, gua shi as well as electro-acupuncture. Unfortunately, there are many people in New Zealand masquerading as acupuncturists ranging from tarot card readers to physical therapists and they refer to their acupuncture as  dry needling. Some of these people do as little as two hours training before going out and practising on you.

The New Zealand Register of Acupuncturists Inc was established in 1977 has over 500 qualified and experienced members through out New Zealand.