Does Acupuncture Work Understanding Acupuncture

Acupuncture does often work, according to clinical research and the people who have benefitted from it. But, how does acupuncture work? The answer depends on whether you’re approaching the question from a traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) viewpoint or a Western scientific research viewpoint.

The Chinese View of Acupuncture and Energy

According to TCM, energy (Qi) flows through the body on specific pathways called “meridians.” The body has 12 major meridians–each corresponding to an organ system–and other minor meridians. As long as energy flows properly, a person remains healthy. However, blockages can develop along the meridians, interfering with the flow of Qi, leading to ill health. The causes of blockages include an unhealthy lifestyle, negative emotions, injuries and environmental factors.

According to TCM, acupuncture works by stimulating specific acupuncture points along the meridians to release the energy blockages. Once energy is flowing again, the body heals itself.

Because each person is unique, an acupuncture treatment for the same condition can vary from person to person. An acupuncturist asks detailed questions about a person’s health and lifestyle to determine the appropriate treatment of acupuncture. Meridians may flow from head to toe, meaning that acupuncture points in the foot may be used to treat conditions in the neck or head.

The Western View of Acupuncture and Energy

Because Qi energy is not part of the Western scientific paradigm, Western science attempts to explain the effects of stimulating acupuncture points in terms of the quantifiable biological and physiological responses of the body.

One of the limitations of research is that it uses the same treatment protocol on everyone, and does not take into account individual differences in the way that an acupuncture practitioner does. Even so, research has shown positive effects of acupuncture on many conditions, including pain and nausea associated with chemotherapy.

Some research suggests that acupuncture causes the release of opioids and other peptides in the nervous system that change how the nervous system and endocrine system (hormones) interact. In particular, opioids may be at least partly responsible for the pain relieving effects of acupuncture.

Regardless of whether you choose to look at acupuncture from a Chinese or Western perspective, a review by the World Health Organization of controlled clinical trials concluded that acupuncture often works as well as other treatments for many conditions, including various types of pain, high blood pressure and adverse reactions to radiation or chemotherapy.


MedicineNet. (n.d.). Acupuncture: How does acupuncture work? Retrieved February 25, 2011, from

National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine. (2009). Acupuncture: An Introduction. Retrieved February 25, 2011, from

Traditional Chinese Medicine World Foundation. (n.d.). What Is Traditional Chinese Medicine? Retrieved February 25, 2011, from

World Health Organization. (2003). Acupuncture: Review and analysis of reports on controlled clinical trials.