How acupuncture works exactly is an enormous subject and a question that it is impossible to answer in absolute terms. We do not yet fully understand the brain, and medicine and science are constantly searching for greater understanding. Such is the nature of all medicine.
I have practiced acupuncture for nine years, and for the purposes of this article, I am going to attempt to explain it with the minimum of reference to traditional terms, that are hard for us to comprehend in the west.
A much used term is Qi. Whilst it has philosophical meaning, it also means energy. We know that our scientist, Albert Einstein, discovered that all things contain energy or electrical activity. Brain and heart waves are measured by machine in hospitals, and electrical activity or energy can be measured by machine at acupuncture points. With years of training and experience the traditional acupuncturist learns to detect the exact location of the point by touch, to within a hairs breadth of accuracy, and more exactly than by machine.
To my mind, we have pause to bring western and eastern thinking together here. Very fine needles are used in acupuncture treatment to stimulate the energy or electrical activity at the point. The best explanation that I have heard is that the metal of the needle effects the electrical activity at the acupuncture point, causing changes in the circulation. I realise that this is gross oversimplification of an extremely intricate, ancient system of medicine, but hope that it is a starting point for some understanding, for the lay person, as to how it actually works.
In traditional acupuncture theory. there are energy pathways along the surface of the body. Each energy pathway relates to the soft tissue area underneath it, and the functioning of a specific body organ.
For example, a problem could occur along the stomach pathway, because a sports injury has happened to occur there. Circulation and pain could be treated via the related pathway, as well as treating to improve the patient's general health and wellbeing. This is always relevant to the patient's recovery.
Alternatively, the patient may have stomach acid, and be worried or anxious, which serves to exacerbate the problem. Acupuncture points along the stomach pathway could be chosen to settle this. In traditional acupuncture the mind/body link is treated as implicit, from lowered immunity, to high blood pressure and beyond. The patient's constitutional strength and susceptibility are always taken into account.
Acupuncture can be used in this way to treat many conditions. Over the years I have treated sciatica, back, neck and shoulder pain, arthritis, migraines, headaches, skin and breathing problems, period and infertility problems, postviral syndrome, depression, anxiety and many more.