Acupuncture is one of the oldest, most commonly used medical procedures in the world. Originating in
The term acupuncture describes a family of procedures involving stimulation of anatomical points on the body by a variety of techniques. American practices of acupuncture incorporate medical traditions from
Traditional Chinese medicine theorizes that there are more than 2,000 acupuncture points on the human body, and that these connect with 12 main and 8 secondary pathways called meridians. Chinese medicine practitioners believe these meridians conduct energy, or qi (pronounced "chee"), throughout the body.
Qi is believed to regulate spiritual, emotional, mental, and physical balance and to be influenced by the opposing forces of yin and yang. According to traditional Chinese medicine, when yin and yang are balanced, they work together with the natural flow of qi to help the body achieve and maintain health. Acupuncture is believed to balance yin and yang, keep the normal flow of energy unblocked, and maintain or restore health to the body and mind.
Traditional Chinese medicine practices (including acupuncture, herbs, diet, massage, and meditative physical exercise) all are intended to improve the flow of qi.3
Western scientists have found meridians hard to identify because meridians do not directly correspond to nerve or blood circulation pathways. Some researchers believe that meridians are located throughout the body's connective tissue;4 others do not believe that qi exists at all.5,6 Such differences of opinion have made acupuncture an area of scientific controversy.
Mechanisms of Action
Several processes have been proposed to explain acupuncture's effects, primarily those on pain. Acupuncture points are believed to stimulate the central nervous system (the brain and spinal cord) to release chemicals into the muscles, spinal cord, and brain. These chemicals either change the experience of pain or release other chemicals, such as hormones, that influence the body's self-regulating systems. The biochemical changes may stimulate the body's natural healing abilities and promote physical and emotional well-being.