Contrary to popular Western belief, acupuncture is not just a system for inserting very fine needles into specific body locations to alleviate pain. So, what is acupuncture, then? Acupuncture is a complete medical protocol focused on correcting imbalances of energy in the body. From its inception in China more than 2,500 years ago, acupuncture has been used traditionally to prevent, diagnose and treat disease, as well as to improve general health.
The traditional explanation for acupuncture’s effectiveness is that it modifies the flow of energy (known as qi or chi) throughout the body, but there is no scientific consensus that this is actually its mechanism of action. Research published in the May 30, 2010 online edition of Nature Neuroscience demonstrated that the effects of acupuncture needling include influencing the activity of adenosine, an amino acid which becomes active in the skin after an injury to ease pain. This may explain in part why pain relief is often experienced as one of the benefits of acupuncture. In fact, much research in the West has focused on this pain-relieving effect, rather than acupuncture’s traditional role of balancing energy to address a wide range of disorders, and the more subtle mechanisms that may be responsible for its overall benefits to health.