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Acupuncture: Needles, Points, and Effects

Photo Credit: acupuncture., originally uploaded by Logan Garrett.

Acupuncture, once considered an exotic treatment, has been making its foray into mainstream health-care. What is acupuncture? It is a medical practice, originating in China, which employs small needles to influence the energy of an organism. The energy is referred to as Qi (Chi). It is described as the life-force or spirit. In Hinduism it is referred to as prana. It is the vitalizing force or energy imbued in an organism.

A bit about Acupuncture needles:

Unlike typical hypodermic needles, which are beveled and pointed, acupuncture needles are solid and round-tipped. Thus, instead of slicing through tissue, it splays it apart. The needles consist of two metals, one coiled around the other. This is important in creating a local current with the body. This allows for the flow of electrons between the needle and the body.

Photo Credit: acupuncture., originally uploaded by hradcanska.

What are Acupuncture points:

Acupuncture points are points with measurably lower electrical resistance than the surrounding skin. They are surface depressions located along muscle cleavage planes and fascial planes. In the 1940’s and 1950’s Niboyet scanned the skin surface with a special galvonometer ( an instrument used to measure and detect electric currents ) and found that points of lower electrical resistance corresponded to classical acupuncture points.

In another convincing study, Darras injected Technitium 99, a radioactive tracer, into both acupuncture and non-acupuncture points . The tracer was followed with a scintillation camera. Repeatedly, the radioactive diffusion from acupuncture points corresponded to the classically described acupuncture meridians, where as a random diffusion pattern was seen in the non-acupuncture points.

Sensation created by Acupuncture:

The acupuncture needles create a sensation which travels as a signal to the target area. The sensation can be described as a heaviness, aching, numbness, warmth, or radiation from the needled acupuncture points. The perceived acupuncture sensation travels at a rate of 1-10 cm/second. This is 5-1200 times slower than either visceral or somatic nerve conduction. The sensation travels along the body’s small nerve fibers.

Conditions treated with Acupuncture:

Because acupuncture incorporates an integrative approach to patient evaluation and treatment, it can be used to treat a plethora of disorders. In the acupuncture paradigm, the organs of the body have, in addition to their biological function, far reaching effects and influences. For example, the kidney not only filters the blood, but it also governs the knees, the back, the bones, hair, ears, and hearing. The kidney is also considered the source of all Qi. Acupuncture can be used to treat(but is not limited to) asthma, nausea, vomiting, infertility, hemorrhoids, tinnitus, constipation, diarrhea, urinary tract disorders, depression, insomnia, fatigue, headaches, rashes, low back pain, and virtually any musculoskeletal disorder.

Why are you looking at my ears?

Some practitioners evaluate the tongue, the pulses, and/or the ears. The reason behind this seemingly curious action is that in the acupuncture model there are multiple micro-systems which reflect the entire body. A micro-system can be thought of as a map of the body imposed on different, selected parts of the body. The micro-systems reflect the condition of the body and its various organs. For example if one is pregnant, the area representing the uterus on the ear may be itchy or reddened. The micro-system is valuable diagnostically and sometimes therapeutically.

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Effects of acupuncture:

Acupuncture causes vasodilation(the blood vessels to dilate), increased blood flow, rise in skin temperature, and a sensation of warmth. Acupuncture has been shown to increase blood cortisol, increase or decrease blood glucose levels, decrease triglycerides, decrease cholesterol, decrease phospholipids, and stimulate the immune system. Acupuncture has been shown to activate the body’s pain modulation system. Low frequency, high intensity electro-acupuncture (acupuncture with added electric stimulation) mobilizes the body’s natural endorphins. High frequency, low intensity electro-acupuncture is mediated by neurotransmitters serotonin, norepinephrine, and dynorphin.


1. Helms, J.M. Acupuncture Energetics A clinical Approach for Physicians Berkely, California: Medical Acupuncture Publishers, 1995,1997: 19-42, 79.

2. The Journal of Nuclear Medicine

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