The Truth Behind Acupuncture: Does It Or Doesn’t It Work?
Here’s a riddle for you: what can help treat mental illnesses, digestive issues, chronic pain in different parts of the body, and neurological complaints like migraines? If you said ‘acupuncture‘, then ten points for you! That’s correct. Acupuncture is a centuries old practice which remains popular for its various benefits and applications. However, there are many who remain in the dark regarding the alternative medicine practice. Today we’ll answer the question, ‘does acupuncture work?’ -- and more importantly, HOW does acupuncture work?
Where Does Acupuncture Come From?
Acupuncture has 2500-year-old roots in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM). The idea of it is that when a person suffers from an illness, they are actually suffering from an imbalance of qi (pronounced Chee), which is loosely translated as ‘life force’ or ‘energy flow’ -- basically, it’s an energy that brings what you need into your body and pushes out what you don’t need. The remedy for this imbalance is to place fine needles into points of the body called ‘meridians‘. These are the points where qi is in the habit of getting caught up.
Think of it as a car accident that’s blocking two of the five lanes. This kind of build up causes a kind of ‘qi traffic-jam’, causing the person to become ill. The needles act as the cleaning crew, opening up the lanes and ultimately leading to faster recoveries.
A student of history would be completely justified in telling you that, while physicians in the far east spoke of this concept qi, in the west they spoke much the same way about an imbalance of humors (bodily fluids). This imbalance of humors was remedied by a brutally archaic practice known as bloodletting. In some cases, a person could have up to 80% of their blood drained for something as trivial as a fever (obviously making the situation worse). The correlation between qi and humors is hence the root of a majority of skepticism about acupuncture.
What Differentiates Qi From Humors?
People often lump humor and qi together as the same thing. The ancient idea was that there’s something other than blood that vitalizes the body, which basically means that we are all made up of both physical and spiritual sources, both of which are essential for our health and well-being. Who can blame a society for believing that spiritual deficiencies add up to physical maladies?
Let’s say a friend of yours says something that really upsets you. The next day you see them with a bandage. They complain to you that they cut their hand yesterday and it’s really hurting. You might feel bad, but most people can’t help thinking, “Well, serves her right. She hurt me, and now she’s hurting for it.”
Without even doing it consciously, we connect the fact that there was something wrong with her spirit. This is why she said something she shouldn’t have -- and therefore, she received the punishment of a physical blow.
This sort of thinking isn’t much different, it just gets taken to a different level when it comes to acupuncture. The spiritual imbalance is responsible for the physical malady, and that is why targeting the spiritual force (qi) can help to heal the physical symptoms, like chronic pain or depression.
The difference, seemingly, between humors and qi, is that qi has been adapted to be understood in western culture as circulation. As far as circulation goes, there’s quite a bit of science to back the idea that better circulation improves recovery among other aspects of life, and finds deep roots in science. In fact, this is the basic idea of deep tissue massage (to improve circulation).
Why Choose Acupuncture?
Now you (hopefully) understand how acupuncture works and why it works. So, the question remains of why you would pursue acupuncture treatment over traditional medicine? And the answer is somewhat nuanced.
Firstly, no one should dismiss the advice of their medical doctor. Western medical opinions have an undeniable inherent value, yes. The advances made in the more traditional medical spheres continue to advance humanity as a whole and prove invaluable. However, there remain medical instances where traditional medicine falls short of capable curing, creating gaps that acupuncture and Traditional Chinese Medicine are more than adept at filling. For example, acupuncture has proven to be extremely effective in curing chronic pain. While traditional medicine generally prescribes painkillers which mask chronic pain, rather than cure it, acupuncture addresses the underlying cause of the pain in order to cure it completely.
Various other conditions can be effectively treated with acupuncture when traditional medicine falls short, including, notably, infertility, anxiety and insomnia. Ideally, acupuncture and conventional medicine should work in tandem, covering for each other when necessary and synthesizing to provide a comprehensive slate of treatment options capable of helping everyone.
Acupuncture possesses and provides a myriad of medical benefits which often serve to heal or eliminate the nagging conditions and illnesses which many deem untreatable. By taking a different approach to healing, acupuncture is capable of achieving what other medical practices cannot. And that is genuine healing through correction of the underlying cause of illnesses to begin with.
Always consult your doctor before pursuing acupuncture treatment. Ultimately, while there is often a time and a place to pursue acupuncture treatment, it’s best to leave it up to the professionals to determine where and when exactly that is.