What is Acupuncture?

Q: I’ve heard about acupuncture, and that it helps people to get better. But I just don’t get it. How does it work?

A: Good question, and it is hard to explain in terms of a biochemical model of health. All living beings are imbued by a “vital force” which can be seen, for example, as the light shining out of someone’s eyes. This is a manifestation of an inner energy that is more than synapsing neurotransmittors and vibrating molecules. This vital force, in Traditional Chinese Medicine, is called “QI” (pronounced chee). The Qi flows through 12 major “meridians” which are like channels just below the surface of the skin, with branches penetrating into the vital organs. Each merdian is affiliated with a vital organ and set of bodily functions. Pain, or any physical dysfunction, is considered in Traditional Chinese Medicine to be due to stuck, or stagnant Qi. Here’s where the needles come in. First of all, they ought to be called filaments. They are extremely fine and nothing is injected through them. Along the meridians there are certain points, called acupoints, where the Qi gathers in tiny pools and thus offers places on the surface of the body for the corresponding organs to be stimulated. The sterile, disposable filaments act as conducting rods when inserted into the acupoints where Qi is stagnating. The metal will stimulate a current, similar to an electrical current, to galvanize the stuck energy to flow, thus restoring balance and harmony to the entire system. Some researchers say that acupuncture works in pain relief by blocking the electric currents in the pain pathways as they ascend through the spinal cord to the brain. This may be part of the story, but there is unquestionably an “energy” system which enlivens us, and which has not yet been totally dissected by modern science. A qualified acupuncturist is trained to assess where your Qi is stuck, and to stimulate the appropriate points and restore the healing flow. Juneau is lucky to have several licensed acupuncturists who would be happy to answer more questions about this ancient and still safe and effective healing art.