How does acupuncture work? – St George News

Stock image | Photo by peakSTOCK/iStock/Getty Images Plus, St. George News

FEATURE — When I tell people I’m an acupuncturist, I get a lot of different responses. On occasion, I still get those who back away slowly and give me the hairy eyeball, as if what I’m doing is the work of some dark and mysterious force. Years ago, I even had a woman beg me not to put a spell on her child. By now, I hope you’re laughing.

Stock image | Photo by AndreyPopov/iStock/Getty Images Plus, St. George News

Thankfully, most people respond positively, as acupuncture is becoming more accessible and less mysterious. For the most part, the consensus is that acupuncture is effective. Some insurance companies cover or reimburse for it, and even Medicare laws are changing to cover acupuncture for low back pain.

However, there is still quite a bit of curiosity about how acupuncture works. It’s the question I get most often and the first objective learning I cover in my Fundamentals of East Asian Medicine course at Rocky Vista University.

If you type “acupuncture” in the search bar at, your search will return over 38,000 studies that include the keyword “acupuncture.” This site is one of many research databases dedicated to the publication of research from around the world and is run by the United States federal government. alone shows studies on acupuncture dating back to 1827, with the lion’s share of research beginning in 1970. What this means is that those who get paid to think critically about causative factors for disease prevention and treatment are thinking very critically about this 3,000 -year-old form of medicine and how it might be effective in the prevention and treatment of our modern-day ailments.

So, how does sticking a bunch of tiny little needles into the skin at seemingly random places help you feel better? Well, when you cut yourself, it heals over time, right? An injury to the skin kicks off a series of complex processes in the body that work together to heal you. The insertion of acupuncture needles causes very tiny injuries all over the body, and through its built-in healing mechanism, your body is stimulated to launch these various healing processes.

Stock image | Photo by humonia/iStock/Getty Images Plus, St. George News

To put it simply, acupuncture (aka tiny needle injuries) causes increased blood flow, a system-wide immune response, the release of endogenous opioids (because where there is injury, there is often pain) and the activation of various neurotransmitters, which carry out various forms of communication between the brain and body.

Don’t worry if you don’t quite understand it all to the depth of a chemist or a neuroscientist. Just give yourself a pat on the back for having a body that is able to do all of these wonderful things without even thinking about it. My hope is that you will remain curious about why so many researchers are dedicating so much of their critical thinking about healing and disease prevention to the topic of acupuncture.

When I first felt the effects of acupuncture as a patient, it became crucial for me to understand how it biochemically, and so began my journey to help demystify this paradigm of medicine that worked so quickly and elegantly to get me back to good health. One of the joys of my profession is having long conversations with people about the biochemical and even energetic mechanisms of acupuncture, the latter of which I didn’t even address in this article.

I hope this explanation helped unravel the mystery behind this very old system of medicine and opened the door to an even greater understanding and acceptance of all the beautiful possibilities acupuncture has to offer in eliminating pain and optimizing health.


This article was originally published in the July/August 2022 issue of St. George Health and Wellness magazine.

Copyright St. George News, LLC, 2022, all rights reserved.

Leave a Comment