Acupuncture: The Science Behind the Needle (with Video)
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Acupuncture: The Science Behind the Needle (with Video)

Since first introduced to the Western world in the mid-1800s, the logic and scientific basis for acupuncture has escaped Western sensibilities, and has led to the wide-spread belief that acupuncture is rooted in ancient superstition and has no scientific basis. As modern science has proven, nothing could be further from the truth.

Acupuncture is a modality of Chinese traditional medicine known to have been in practice for at least 2500 years. 

Hieroglyphs and pictographs from the Shang Dynasty suggest that acupuncture (as well as a number of other commonly-used healing modalities) was practiced as early as the 12th century BCE. 

While its specific origins in China are uncertain, one theory suggests that the effects of acupuncture were realized when it was observed that some soldiers who had been wounded by arrows in battle were mysteriously cured although left untreated. 

Scholars also suggest that the healing principles behind acupuncture may be traced as far back as the Stone Age, when Bian shi, or sharpened stones were employed at keys points on the body. 

In any regard, the philosophy behind acupuncture is the principle that health depends on a vital energy lifeforce called qi (sometimes ki) which flows through the body along 14 specific pathways called “meridians.” 

In principle, if your qi isn’t flowing correctly due to blockage or  being diverted, you suffer pain and disease.  Inserting needles into certain points along these meridians effectively unblocks your qi flow and restores your body to a state of energetic balance.  And over the course of the past 2500 years, this knowledge has led to the remarkably efficient system of healing known as acupuncture

Since first introduced to the Western world by Chinese immigrats during the mid-1800s, the logic and scientific basis for acupuncture has eluded Western sensibilities, and has led to the wide-spread belief that acupuncture has no scientific basis whatsoever, and is rooted in ancient superstition. 

Many prominent American doctors of the 20th century related its perceived effectiveness to the placebo effect--whereby virtually any method of physical contact would have been equally successful. 

But as many Americans are now discovering, acupuncture is highly effective in treating many minor and chronic conditions, and is indeed founded in substantial scientific principles.

Within the past decade, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) has conducted extensive research into the effectiveness and principles of acupuncture, and has made several surprising discoveries. 

For example, in addition to achieving astonishing results relating to relief of pain after dental surgery and in alleviating nausea and vomiting associated with chemotherapy, studies also indicate that when inserted properly, needles can also help end the pain of menstrual cramps, tennis elbow, fibromyalgia, lower back pain, osteoarthritis, headache, and a number of other common conditions resulting in chronic pain.  And they believe that’s just the beginning of the healing possibilities.

In one study conducted at the University of Pennsylvania Medical Center, it was discovered that when strategically placed, acupuncture needles have a marked affect on the flow of blood in the brain. 

Using SPECT (single photon emission computed tomography) to view the brain activity of four subjects suffering pain and five who were pain-free (who served as the control group), it was discovered that when needles were inserted along the corresponding meridians, all the subjects experienced increased blood flow to the thalamus, the area of the brain that relays pain signals and other sensory information.  Because the brains of the pain-free group showed the same reactions as those who were experiencing pain, the changes in blood-flow could not be attributed to the so-called “placebo affect.”  Thus science sees no limit as to what other positive effects acupuncture can have on patients’ health conditions with this as the basis.

Today there are an estimated 18,000 licensed acupuncturists in the United States, approximately one-thirds of whom are physicians. 

Twenty-first century doctors have adopted an entirely different perspective concerning the use of acupuncture than their 20th century counterparts, with many now regularly referring their patents to acupuncturists, or are themselves expanding their medical repertoire to include this modality. 

And while much of the less-enlightened sector of the American population is still hesitant to subject themselves to “the needles,” those who have are this ancient-yet-new health science’s best and most vocal advocates. 

More and more people are seeing the benefits of using a healing method that eliminates the need for drugs, is often less expensive than doctors’ visits, and leaves the body in balance rather than invades it with harmful chemicals or invasive surgery.


University of Pennsylvania Medical Center website

Mayo Foundation for Medical Education website

The Healing Center, Sarasota, Fl.

Thumb and Chinese images via

Insertion image via

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