To be honest, I really don’t know. There are a lot of theories out there and research using fMRI machines to learn more about what happens in the body during an acupuncture session. More information is great, I think, but in my opinion the best way to understand how acupuncture works is to try it for yourself.
Acupuncture, like surgery, is best understood on a case study basis. That’s the method used to understand if surgery for a specific condition helps that condition. So by studying cases in acupuncture school I refined my knowledge and learned that if someone had a specific pattern (more about that in a minute) by using certain points and herbal medicinals their condition improved.
So one of the best ways to understand how acupuncture works is to experience it yourself. At my first treatment I was amazed. I felt somehow different, better, lighter, happier, and so glad I had experienced the treatment. The needles didn’t hurt like a hypodermic needle, the only experience I had had with needles up to that point. I get to see this reaction in my patients as well – especially the ones who have never had acupuncture before, and who leave with a smile on their face, calmer, sleepy or sometimes energized.
The beauty of acupuncture and Chinese medicine is that it focuses on your body, in that moment, and what needs to be rebalanced for your optimal health at that time. It is not a cookie cutter approach. My job is to determine your pattern – based on what you report to me and what I observe of your tongue and feel at your radial pulses – and then to choose acupuncture points and herbal medicines for that pattern. So, if you are a women about to have your period, and you are experiencing irritability, abdominal cramping, and fatigue, my job that day is to move your qi and blood (stopping the pain), calm your spirit (alleviating the irritability) and boost your energy. I will pick points for you that day to accomplish this, and likely send you home with an herbal formula (for many women this is Jia Wei Xiao Yao San one of the most common PMS formulas, but it might be Gui Zhi Fu Ling Wan if we are working on painful periods) and some homework to accomplish this goal (meditation, heat on the abdomen and gentle exercise). With each patient, I look at where you are that day, as well as the greater overarching concern we are working on and craft a specific treatment just for you.
I generally know my patients pretty well after seeing them for awhile. I am so lucky to have patients who consistently trust me with their health. It is also my job to be available to answer questions and if I don’t know the answer, to help find someone who does. I know many amazing practitioners and can refer you or help you decide who might be most helpful to you. Together we can come up with a plan for your issue, or the next step in treatment.
So how does acupuncture work? Over time, by gentle adjustments to your body and health, to help you enjoy the best health possible. Similar to exercise, it isn’t a one time event, for most folks you get the best results by continuing care. You are certainly in better shape after going to the gym once, but you won’t achieve your fitness goals by the end of that one visit. Acupuncture is the same – and I encourage you to come in and get started.