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Woman Receiving Acupuncture

What is Acupuncture?

Simply put:

  • Acupuncture is the insertion of fine needles either just below the skin, or into specific points along meridians or into specific muscles to achieve the desired effect.

  • Acupuncture increases blood flow to the local area which promotes local healing. it also stimulates the body's response to stimulus which is to release endorphins. These relax you and make you feel happy.

  • In Traditional Chinese Medicine, Qi (Ki in Japanese Medicine) is the life force circulating within us all. Acupuncture encourages the regulation of Qi within the body, promoting lymph drainage and detoxification.

  • As acupuncture increases blood flow to local areas and improves the homeostasis of the body, it improves muscle tone and encourages the deposition of collagen which leaves skin supple and rejuvenated.

A little more in depth:

How does Acupuncture work? In layman's terms 

The insertion of an acupuncture needle causes reactions at the immediate site, and, due to muscle stimulation by movement of the needle when inserted and professionally manipulated causing a wider local effect. This happens as the body reacts to what it considers a potentially harmful stimulus. In reality, the needles are sterile and not much wider than a hair so they do not ‘damage’ tissue they are inserted into.

Two types of nerve cells react:  

Myelinated which react to the needle itself. 

Unmyelinated which react to the stimulus caused by the needle. 

Action Potentials are amounts of electrical activity moving between nerve and muscle cells which is how cells communicate with each other and pass messages throughout the body. Here I will refer to them as APs. The insertion of a needle causes an AP to travel from the site of insertion where the local nerves notice the sensation all the way up to the brain. 

A few interesting things happen along the way.

Locally, at the site of insertion, this causes proteins to be produced which encourages blood flow to the area.  

The message gets passed through the nerve cells from the site of insertion along to the spinal cord. Here cells in the spinal cord tell the body to stop telling cells around the needle that there is any pain. It does this by releasing endorphins. These are the body’s version of morphine, so not only giving pain relief but also a sense of relaxation. 

The AP carrying the message that there is a harmful stimulus continues up to the brain and when they reach the base of the brain, more endorphins are produced and released into the body. 

Inside the brain the pituitary gland releases yet more endorphins into the bloodstream. As the brain detects all these endorphins floating around inside it, a particular part of the brain is activated and this tells the body to release serotonin. Serotonin is a protein like endorphins and causes you to feel happy and relaxed.  

The brain also reacts to all this happy activity by telling the body to stop noticing pain at the area of needle insertion. 

So acupuncture causes the body not only to stop noticing pain in a particular area but also to release its own feel good medicine.  

How does Acupuncture worK? The Clinical Version


The insertion of an acupuncture needle causes reactions in the immediate site and, due to muscle stimulation by De Qi techniques a larger local effect, as if due to a noxious stimulus.  

Myelinated (stimulated by the needle) and unmyelinated (stimulated by the noxious insult) free nerve endings are stimulated to release action potentials (APs). Locally, this results in the release of neuropeptides which cause vasodilation and among which are calcitonin gene-related peptides (CGRP) which promote local healing. 


Small myelinated (A δ fibres and Type II/ III muscle nerve fibres) and unmyelinated nerve fibres (C fibres) form afferent pathways along which APs travel to the dorsal horn of the spinal cord. Here, unmyelinated fibres link to transmission cells of the dorsal horn via substantia gelatinosa (SG) and myelinated fibres meet the transmission cells via intermediate cells. The intermediate cells inhibit the action of SG, a medium transmitting and moderating, amongst other things, pain and touch. The intermediate cells achieve this through the release of enkephalin, a peptide which binds to the body’s opioid receptors essentially giving the body the stress and pain-relieving benefits of an opioid. This process results in segmental analgesia due to an inhibition of the nociceptive pathway at this level and is the basis of the theory of pain gates. 

APs then pass up the antero-lateral tract of the spinal cord into the reticular formation of the brainstem, causing the release of β-endorphins. 

Supra-spinally – the descending pathway 

Due to the stimulation of the brain by APs to the sensation of pain, the pituitary gland then releases further β-endorphins into the blood stream. The presence of β-endorphins in the mid-brain causes the Periaqueductal Grey, an area which monitors and moderates pain, to activate. It causes the release of serotonin at the intermediate cells of the segmental dorsal horn and also causes the intermediate cells to release met-enkephalin, further inhibiting the action of the SG. In this way, acupuncture does not only produce local and systemic pain relief, but also a sense of positivity and well-being, which are key in any form of recovery. 

What is Acupuncture?: About
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