Acupuncture is the practice by means of which very thin needles are inserted into the skin at specific sites. These sites, or points, as they are known, are situated on pathways in which energy, known as Qi, is propagated. These pathways are named the meridians or channels. It is interesting to note that most pain impulses travel along the same pathways as those of the traditional Qi circulation. There are special points that are not on the meridians that may be situated in or near an area or joint that is painful, or that have specific general effects on the body when needled.

Another aspect of needle insertion is the effect of the “needle injury” itself. The needle creates a micro-injury in the tissue and the body responds by an overwhelming reaction of the local defence or immune mechanism. The effect of this is to repair not only the micro-injury but also the surrounding area of injury or disease. The needle also initiates a potential action or electric charge in the peripheral (limb) or spinal segmental nerve (nerve level in the spine that supplies the limb) that it stimulates. This triggers a complex series of biochemical effects, such as an opiate (natural pain-relieving) and anti-inflammatory release, as a result of the signals received in the whole nervous system (including the brain).

Acupuncture is extremely effective in treating the musculoskeletal system, as the muscles, tendons, ligaments and bone lie under the skin along the meridians. When muscles are in spasm, inserting a needle into the tight musculature will release the spasm by initially “grabbing” the tight tissue and then relaxing it. A “twitch response” may be noted.

Needling the skin stimulates the nerve fibre afferents incoming to the nervous system among others. Certain pathways will specifically target the release of endorphins (polypeptides that reduce pain sensitivity), often creating instant pain relief. Other nerve fibres have different pathways to the spinal cord and brain and release different neurotransmitters (natural pain relievers). These neurotransmitters are enkephalin, dynorphin and serotonin, among others and which also induce relaxation, emotional release and relief.

Acupuncture is therefore highly effective in the treatment of pain, inflammation, improving immune activity, stress, release of emotions and it also induces relaxation.