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Acupuncture: How Does It Work + Health Benefits

Acupuncture: How Does It Work + Health Benefits. 

Acupuncture is one of the oldest methods of alternative treatment originated in China. It is the main component of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM)

The thousand years old therapy is widely used in the east and west nowadays because of its multiple health benefits, 

If you ask an acupuncturist, ''How does it works'', he/she will explain it in the way of eastern medicines. Explaining the functioning of acupuncture in the western term is difficult.

To understand it better, you need to know the fundamental concepts of TCM and the underlying theories/principles.

This article covers the different concepts of Chines medicines, including meridian, reflexology, acupuncture, and acupressure points. 

Furthermore, you'll learn here different aspects of modern acupuncture, uses, safety, efficacy, and impact on your health.

A basic understanding of the Yin -Yang theory, Five Elements theory, and other principles are essential to know the functioning of acupuncture, as it's a key part of TCM.

Acupuncture shouldn't be confused with acupressure which is a distinct method of treatment.

So, I'm going to start with the concept of acupuncture now.

What is Acupuncture?

Health Benefits of Acupuncture and How it Works
Acupuncture, an ancient method of treatment

Acupuncture (a needle-based treatment) is the key component of TCM. 
Acu means needle and puncture means ''inserting'' or ''puncturing'' 

Thin metallic sterilized needles are used for healing. The needles usually stay for 5-30 minutes in their position. 

Usually, one or more treatments are given per week, and the duration of treatment may continue for several months, depending on the patient's condition.

Before the invention of metal, fishbone, stone, and bamboo-needle were used by acupuncture practitioners.

In the modern age, professional acupuncturists use disposable needles to ensure the safety of patients.

Acupuncture, including moxibustion (heating), has been practiced in Chinese medicine for thousands of years.

According to TCM, illness is the manifestation of the imbalance of the body's energy known as Qi (Chi).

The human body consists of 12 main meridians (Jingmai) and 8 extraordinary meridians (Luomai) through which ''qi'' or life force (vital energy) flows throughout the body. 

Each meridian contains several acupoints. Acupuncturists believe that the blockage/obstruction of the flow of energy is the cause of imbalance.

For good health, a balance of energy is needed. The imbalance of energy is the key reason for disease.
The practice of acupuncture is based on the knowledge of the locations and functions of different acupoints 

Acupuncturists insert sterile thin needles through the skin into the connecting acupuncture points of meridians to clear the blockage and balance the energy of the body.

Acupuncture gained widespread popularity in America and Europe in the 20th century.

And modern acupuncturists use improved devices like electro-acupuncture, laser-based acupuncture, magnetic acupuncture.

A few years ago, I got a miracle instrument known as ''Acupoint Treasure'' in which the needle was invisible, but you can feel the sensation of needling when it touches the acupoints of your body.  

How does it work?

Meridian theory is the principal guide of acupuncture and its clinical practice from ancient times. It describes the key concepts about the functions of the human body and organs though they differ from the concepts of western medicines.

The invisible meridians or channels are similar to the circulatory system of western medicines. They work as a network system. 

Roughly, there are 72 meridians in the human body 20 of them are considered more useful. Of the 20 important meridians, 12 are known as primary or principal meridians.

There are about 400 acupuncture points located on different meridians. Among them, 361 points are well documented. The acupuncture practitioners penetrate specific points while healing any condition to get desired effects. 

Penetration of acupuncture points can stimulate your nervous system, release chemicals in the muscles, spinal cords, and brain. It ensures the proper flow of energy, blood, and body fluids.

I'd like to give an overview of the concept of the meridian along with acupoints in the next section.

Meridians and Acupuncture points

Meridians (Jing lou) are pathways through which the energy of your flows. Out of the 12 principal meridians or channels, 6 are known as hand meridians, and the remaining 6 are known as leg meridians. 

Meridians are further classified as Yin and Yang. Yin and Yang are based on the concept of Duality. They are opposite but complementary to each other. 

Each meridian belongs to one of the 5 phases- Metal, Earth, Wood, Fire, and Water. 

In other words, each meridian is related to an element as described in the Five Elements Theory.

Further, each channel contains a specific number of points.

The meridians are named with the organ system as per TCM, and categorized as Yin and Yang.

Yin meridians are connected with the Yin organs, whereas the Yang meridians are connected with the Yang organs.

The overview of 12 principal meridians and 8 extra meridians are-

Hand Meridians - 6 Channels 91 points

3 Yin Meridians of Hand
  • Lung Meridians (LU) - It is associated with the lung organ and consists of 11 acupoints.
  • Heart Meridians (H) - It is connected with the heart organ and contains 9 points.
  • Pericardium Meridians (P) - It is associated with the Pericardium and consists of 9 acupoints.
3 Yang Meridians of Hand
  • Small Intestine Meridians (SI) - It is linked with the Small Intestine and consists of 19 acupoints.
  • Large Intestine Meridians (LI) - It is associated with the Large Intestine. It consists of 20 acupoints.
  • Sanjiao/ Tripple Burner Meridians (SJ/TB) - This channel is connected with the Tripple Burner and contains 23 points.

Leg Meridians - 6 Channels  156

3 Yin Meridians of  Leg
    • Spleen (SP) - This meridian is linked with the spleen with 21 acupoints.
    • Kidney (K) -It is connected with the heart organ and contains 27 points.
    • Liver (L) -It is connected with the heart organ and contains 14 points.

      3 Yang Meridians of Leg
        • Stomach (ST) - It is connected with the stomach and contains 45 points.
        • Urinary Bladder (UB) - It is associated with the Urinary Bladder. This meridian contains 67 points. Yes, it consists of the largest number of acupoints.
        • Gall Bladder (GB) - It is linked with the Gall Bladder and contains 44 points.

        The 8 Extraordinary Meridian/ Extraordinary Vessels:

        • Conception Vessel (Ren Mai) 
        • Governing Vessel (Du Mai)
        • Penetrating Vessel (Chong Mai)
        • Girdle Vessel (Dai Mai)
        • Yin linking vessel (Yin Wei Mai)
        • Yang linking vessel (Yang Wei Mai)
        • Yin Heel Vessel (Yin Qiao Mai)
        • Yang Heel Vessel (Yang Qiao Mai)
        These 8 extra meridians store qi (chi) for the internal organs. Among the 8 extra vessels, acupuncturists consider Ren Mai (24 points) and Du Mai (28 points) as are most important.

        Organ CLOCK

        Organ Clock or Body Clock in TCM is the flow or distribution of Qi in different organs through 12 Principal Meridian in a 24hours cycle.

        Qi flows through the principal meridians within your body in a 24-hour cycle to strengthen the organ system related to each principal meridian. 

        The organ clock explains how Qi moves from one organ to another through the meridian. It helps to understand which organ is most active at which time, and it goes to a resting state.

        It is to be noted that the organic system in TCM is not similar to that of the western system.

        While flowing, the life force takes around 2 hours to vitalize each meridian. The beginning of the cycle is 3 am-5 am. During this time, the lungs are super active as then the Qi is at the peak.

        The Qi then moves to its corresponding yang organ Large Intestine -5 am to 7 am.

        The following paragraph will help understand the flow of qi from organ to the organ through meridians, as per the organ clock:

        3 am-5 am:   Lungs
        5 am-7 am:   Large Intestine
        7 am-9 am:   Stomach
        9 am-11 am: Spleen
        11 am-1 pm: Heart
        1 pm-3 pm:   Small Intestine
        3 pm-5 pm:   Urinary Bladder
        5 pm-7 pm:   Kidney
        7 pm-9 pm:   Pericardium
        9 pm-11 pm: Triple Burner 
        11 pm-1 am: Gall Bladder
        1 am -3 am:  Liver

        There is a correlation between yin and yang organs. 

        Each yin (female) organ is associated with a yang (male) organ, and they are considered a pair.

        The flow of energy starts with the lung(yin) and ends with the liver (yin). The next cycle again starts with the lung and the process is repeated.

        The yin/yang pair relationship is:
         Yin                      Yang

        Lung🠞                  Large Intestine🠟 
        Spleen🠟             ðŸ œStomach         
        Heart🠞                 Small Intestine🠟
        Kidney🠟             ðŸ œUrinary Bladder                          
        Pericardium🠞        Triple Burner🠟 
        Liver                  ðŸ œGall Bladder        


        5 Most Used Acupuncture points

        • Hegu-LI4
        ''Hegu'' means ''joining valley'' or ''union valley''. This is the fourth point of the Large intestine meridian known as LI 4. 

        This point is located on the back of your hand (both left and right) between the thumb and first finger

        Typically, the left hand is used in clinical practices.

        Apart from the activation of the large intestine, the point is used to treat problems of the extreme upper part of your body including the head. 

        Simply put, it is an effective point to treat the problems of head and face and includes nose, eyes, ears, jaw, and mouth.

        This point is highly effective in relieving several kinds of pain.

        Pregnant women should avoid this point. Licensed acupuncturists usually don't recommend this point for them.
        • Lieque-LU7

        LU7 or ''Lieque'' is a common point located above the wrist (front side) used to treat the condition of the head and neck. It's the 7th point of lung meridian and used to improve the functioning of the lung. 

        Headache, migraine, tonsilitis, neck stiffness are some of the conditions for which LU7 is widely used. 

        The location of this point is 1.5 cun (Tsun) above the transverse crease of the wrist.


        ''Cun'' or ''Tsun'' is the unit of measuring length also known as Chinese inch. The width of your thumb is equal to 1 cun, but the width of the two other two forefingers is 1.5 and, the four forefingers is 3 cun.


        Neiquan is the 6th point of pericardium meridian. It is located on the palmer aspect or inner side of your forearm. 

        The exact location is 2 cun (3 middle fingers width) above the transverse crease of the wrist, between the two tendons.

        Watch this video to find the location of the point- 

        This acupoint is used to treat the conditions related to the chest, including palpitation, cough, asthma, chest pain, cardiac pain, and more.

        It is the common point for healing nausea. Several studies suggest that it is effective in postoperative nausea and vomiting.

        Acupuncture/ acupressure on p6 point might help relieve motion sickness.

        San Yin Jiao-Sp6

        The 6th point of the spleen meridian is known as Sanyinjiao.

        The point is located inside (medial) of your leg, 3cun above the ankle(in the depression under the tibia).

        Studies show Sp 6 acupoint is effective in reducing labor pain and the duration of labor.


        Pregnant women should avoid sp 6 as it is used in labor.


        Zusanli (''leg three miles'' in English) is the 36th point of the stomach meridian. It is the command point of the abdomen. 

        The point St 36 is located in the anterior aspects of your leg in between the tibia and fibula, 3 cun below the depression of the patella ligament.

        To find the point easily on your left leg, cover your palm of the left hand on the left knee cap. The point is in between the end of the ring finger and the little finger.

        The point is usually used to strengthen the spleen and stomach.

        St 36 is used to treat a wide range of conditions, including gastrointestinal disorders, and alleviate pain.

        Studies show that acupuncture/ acupressure on Zusanli can reduce the blood glucose level significantly. Thus it is effective in treating diabetes mellitus, known as the silent killer.

        Acupuncture vs Acupressure

        Both acupuncture and acupressure are based on the theories and concepts of TCM. Although the purpose of the both are same (enhancing and balancing energy in your body), the methods of treatments are different. 

        Needles are used in acupuncture but not in acupressure. Acupressure is a type of message used in TCM. 

        To create pressure on the acupoint, acupressurists use their fingers or small stick-like device, instead of needles.

        Most modern acupressure therapists use a unique wooden device known as Jimmy.

        Reflexology vs. Merdian

        Reflexology is a systematic practice of applying pressure on certain reflex points on the hands and feet to stimulate the body.

        Reflexology explains how one part of your body is connected to other parts. The reflexes map is different from the meridians map. 

        According to reflexology, creating appropriate pressures on the specific points of hands and feet energizes and rejuvenates the connecting organs and all other body parts.

        Reflexology is known as ''zone therapy'' in Europe and widely used since the 14th century. People use reflexology to heal their health problems as it offers high levels of safety and effectiveness.

        Is Acupuncture Painful?

        It depends on the experience of the acupuncturists and the size of the needles they use. Some people say painful, some say not. 

        I can say from my personal experience that you feel little pain with a slight burning sensation.

        If the needles are thin like hair and inserted by an experienced licensed practitioner, you can tolerate it. Otherwise, you may feel pain like vaccination.

        But you may feel energetic in either case when the needles are taken out from the body.

        So, ''acupuncture is painful'' is a myth. 

        Health Benefits of Acupuncture

        Acupuncture offers multiple health benefits and can effectively reduce several kinds of pain, including headache, migraine, backache, and more. It helps you lead a stress-free life.

        Acupuncture is popular in the western world because it can promote wellness, alleviate pain and prevent disease without the use of any drug.

        Acupuncture can provide relief for numerous conditions that include:

        • Headache and Migraine
        • Allergies
        • Respiratory Disorders
        • Depression and Anxiety
        • Neurological Disorders, including paralysis, vertigo, and Parkinson
        • Nausea, vomiting, and irritable bowel syndrome
        • Hypertension and Hypotension
        • Arthritis, sciatica, frozen shoulder, tennis elbow
        • Knee pain, back pain, neck pain, and more.

        According to NCCIH (The National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health)adequate research has been conducted for ostrioartarities and certain pain.

        However, for other health issues, the evidence is inadequate. 

        Research suggests, apart from pain management, it can be useful in a wide range of conditions.

        Acupuncture and WHO

        Acupuncture is a WHO recognizes method of treatment. The World Health Organization (WHO) recognizes the acupuncture treatment of a wide range of ailments including the following:

        • Respiratory Disorders- such as sinusitis, common cold, and flu, tonsillitis, asthma, bronchitis, etc.
        • Gastrointestinal Disorders - such as hyperacidity, constipation, diarrhea, hiccough.
        • Neurologic and Musculoskeletal- headache and migraine, peripheral neuropathies, frozen shoulder, sciatica, knee pain, back pain, and so on.
        • Eye Disorders- such as cataracts, conjunctivitis, and myopia.
        • Mouth Disorders- like toothache, gingivitis, and pharyngitis. 
        • Reproductive and Gynecological Conditions- impotence, infertility, premenstrual syndrome, etc.
        • Mental Disorders- Insomnia, stress, anxiety, depression, etc.
        So, the application of acupuncture is much more than to relieve pain. It has a wide range of applications. But scientific evidence is not adequate about its efficacy in all the conditions.

        Is Acupuncture Expensive?

        Most people think so, but this is not true. Compared to the cost of treatment of chronic diseases in western medicine, acupuncture is cheaper.

        Dr. Zhanxiang Wang, MD (China), Ph.D., LAc, is a professor of Clinical Sciences at the National University of Health Sciences. According to him, it's a myth that acupuncture is expensive. The reality is, '' it is fairly affordable.

        Safety and precaution

        Acupuncture offers a natural health care system. The treatment of acupuncture is usually considered safe if performed by experienced and certified practitioners. This means no significant side effects have yet been reported.

        If you decided to go for acupuncture treatment, please chose a certified practitioner. 

        Consult your physician for the treatment of complicated health problems.
        For diagnosis, use the modern western mechanism.

        Bottom Lines

        Acupuncture can boost physical, mental, and spiritual health like other recognized alternative medicines. It's a natural way to maintain your health and overall wellness.

        Although acupuncture is safe and WHO-recognized treatment, its effectiveness in many conditions needs more evidence.

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