What is “Traditional Chinese Medicine”?

Traditional Chinese Medicine is an extremely precise and complete medical system that has been continuously practiced for over 4,000 years and currently treats more than one third of the world’s population. It includes herbology, injection therapy, moxabustion, massage (tuina), qi gong and lifestyle counseling for the treatment and prevention of disease, illness and injury.

Based on the principle that we are a part of nature, health is established when harmony is achieved both within ourselves and in relation to the natural world. In diagnosing and treating an illness, Chinese medicine looks for the root cause in order to reestablish balance and restore health. Nature is seen not only to to exist outside the body, but within as well.

How does acupuncture work?

Within the body and on its surface are currents or streams of vital energies that flow along specific pathways in an orderly pattern. A disruption in the flow of energy in these streams, creating an obstruction, causes imbalances and eventual disorders. Along these pathways, called meridians, are precise acupuncture points that have varying functions. By needling appropriate and carefully chosen points, a skilled TCM practitioner is able to encourage the smooth flow of energy that is vital for the body to heal itself, thereby reestablishing and maintaining good health.

Translating this into modern language, acupuncture improves microcirculation; acupuncture regulates immunity, respiration, temperature, pressure, hormonal secretion and sensitivity, neuromuscular coordination, and the manufacture of blood cells. Acupuncture also stimulates the central nervous system, activating mechanisms of repair and regeneration. Acupuncture provides a tune-up to the organs and tissues of the body and enhances a dynamic equilibrium.

How does modern Western science explain how acupuncture works?

Since the early 1970s, neurophysiologist Bruce Pomeranz has studied the effectiveness of acupuncture for pain, nerve regeneration, and cutaneous wound healing. He demonstrated that acupuncture relieved chronic pain in 55% to 85% of patients, compared to a 30% relief of pain by placebo, evidence that acupuncture is as effective as many potent drugs.

Acupuncture analgesia is initiated by the stimulation of small afferent sensory nerve fibers embedded in musculature that send impulses to the spinal cord to affect three centers: the spinal cord, midbrain, and hypothalamic-pituitary. When these centers are activated, neurotransmitters release endorphins, enkephalins, monoamines, and cortisol to block pain messages. Needles placed near the pain site, either on an acupoint or at a tender spot, activate segmental circuits to the spinal cord in addition to all three centers.

(This information and more can be found in Stux G., B. Pomeranz, B. Berman Basics of Acupuncture, Springer-Verlag, 2003; and Pomeranz, B., “Acupuncture Analgesia,” in G. Stux and R. Hammerschlag (eds), Clinical Acupuncture: Scientific Basis, Springer-Verlag, 2001.)