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How Does Acupuncture Work?
By Peter Games, L. Ac.

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Boise Acupuncture Pain SpecialistsAfter another year had passed, my continued interest in acupuncture led me to apply and enroll at Southwest Acupuncture College in Santa Fe, NM. The 3,000 hour program, leading to a Master of Science in Oriental Medicine, helped me to see my questions and their answers in a new light. It was also while studying in this educational program that I met my wife, Jennifer, a Licensed Acupuncturist as well. Today, I can fully understand why the answers to my questions were so unsatisfying. I was unaware at the time that I had been seeking a Western explanation of an Eastern concept. In asking my questions, I was not only interested in learning about how acupuncture worked, but I was also implicitly expecting an answer in my language, in terms understandable by someone who grew up and lived in this part of the world.

In the academic programs teaching traditional Chinese medicine in the United States today, there is little emphasis placed upon the subject of how acupuncture works from a scientific point of view. Rather, the educational programs focus upon helping the student to understand the eastern explanation of acupuncture, the one that I originally found so evasive and confusing. This isn’t to say that research studies aren’t trying to figure out how acupuncture works from a scientific viewpoint. In many such studies, acupuncture has been shown to trigger the releChinese Medicine in Boise Idaho - Red Templease of endorphins and enkephalins, chemicals with pain relieving properties. Other theories propose that acupuncture needles jam the neuronal pathways and thereby prevent pain signals from reaching the brain. But rather than demanding a scientific description of how acupuncture works, I began to see the benefit of understanding the Chinese explanation, since that was the paradigm within which instructors and practitioners had worked for thousands of years. If we try to talk about Chinese medicine strictly from a scientific viewpoint, then we are not really talking about Chinese medicine. We would be excluding a large quantity of important Chinese medical philosophy which is inextricably linked to what this medicine is and from where it has come. During the course of my studies, I began to see and embrace the fact that in order to learn how traditional Chinese medicine works, it is necessary to understand those who have a history of practicing it.

Thus, acupuncture works because with extremely thin, sterile, disposable acupuncture needles, an acupuncturist accesses a patient’s energy and restores balance. From a Chinese medical point of view, energy moves through the human body along fourteen main pathways and when the flow of this energy is obstructed or blocked, the result is disease or injury, such as pain, digestive disorders, or gynecological problems (to name just a few). These blockages can be caused by emotional stress, poor eating habits, unhealthy lifestyle choices, or physical injury. The acupuncturist uses acupuncture needles (and other methods) to mildly stimulate certain specific points on the body and restore balance to the normal flow of that energy, relieving pain, and treating disease. Hopefully, you don’t find this explanation unsatisfying. If you do, you may not be alone.

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