With the recent research showing that acupuncture does indeed work (phew, I almost had to change careers) I wanted to share a few theories on how and why.

Traditional view

Acupuncture releases flow.

The body is a circulatory system. Energy and blood travel everywhere in the body through channels. Each organ has a channel and connects to other organs through these channels.

The lungs join the lung meridian, which goes down the arm to the large intestine meridian, which goes back up the arm and through the body to the large intestine, which then joins to the stomach, then to 7-eleven at 1am for soggy nachos and a big gulp and an inner monologue which asks “Seriously? No diet doctor pepper?”…. Going through all of the remaining channels and organs eventually brings you back to the lungs.

Lest anyone think otherwise the channels of the body do not connect to 7-eleven, soggy nachos, or big gulps. And I don’t drink diet soda, don’t judge me.

BTW (that’s by the way for you texty challenged types) the fastest way to a man’s heart is through his spleen, not his stomach. The fastest way to a women’s heart (and other areas) is a vivid imagination.

Ultimately going through the entire series of channels brings you back to the point you started from. So the channels make a big meandering loop through the whole body. To simplify imagine the circulation system as a ring or a circular hose (the most practical of all hoses).

BTW a circular hose is not the most practical of all hoses.

Anywhere the hose is slightly pinched, or where circulation is blocked to some degree then circulation in the whole system slows down reducing the health of the entire body. The ancient Chinese found that by inserting needles or applying acupressure at key points (acupuncture points) the blockages would release, the circulation in the entire system would improve, and health would improve.

Something’s missing view

This view was created as a reaction to the traditional view. It points out that the traditional view is all well and nice, but something’s missing dammit (yeah it’s spelled that way now, what’s the English language coming to?). Namely, “how does inserting needles in the body or pressing on points improve the circulation?”

Immune system view

Living tissue responds to stimulus.

When you insert needles in the body or put pressure on points the body reacts. With needles this is easier to imagine. The body views the needles as a foreign body and sends blood and immune factors to neutralize the foreign body. This shunts blood away from the blockage point ultimately clearing the channel. With sufficient pressure on a point the body reacts in a similar fashion.

The traffic jam analogy proves this point conclusively (sort of). If you can just get enough cars to exit the freeway things will be free and clear for the rest of the cars to pass.

Attention view

BTW did you know a study showed that watching Sponge Bob Square Pants reduces the attention span of 4 year olds? That’s why just before children’s acupuncture I strongly recommend parents demonize Sponge Bob and his friend Patrick.

Please don’t actually demonize Sponge Bob and Patrick. That show is HILARIOUS.

What was I talking about?

In various studies on meditation, yoga, qi gong, and other practices it has been shown that by focusing the attention on a specific area in the body the physiology of that area is altered. Things that you may have tried involve imagining biting into a lemon, or imagining placing your hands in a fire, resulting in salvation or increase in hand temperature respectively.

The sensation of acupuncture or acupressure draws the attention to certain areas in the body and away from other areas for an extended period of time ultimately changing the circulation in the system.

Feel good/positive outlook view

In this view we heal by reacting to pleasure, as opposed to the immune system view where we heal by reacting to pain.

Here acupuncture or acupressure feels so amazing (no, it’s not just masochists that like the feel of acupuncture, geniuses and accountants like it too) that the feelings of illness are either significantly diminished or eliminated entirely. The nervous system can’t focus on too many things at once, so provide enough good sensations and the bad sensations are crowded out.

Once you are focused on the good sensation you know that it is possible to feel good again. Trusting that healing is happening makes it to happen.

The placebo effect has been somewhat trivialized by medical researchers even though every healing modality involves it to some degree (even surgery). In the case of a coma patient the placebo effect is utilized by family members and/or medical practitioners (their belief influences the outcome of the unconscious patient).

Somehow just calling it the placebo effect diminishes its perceived usefulness because of the negative publicity, so think of it instead as the mental power effect.

On a side note the mental power effect has lately been referred to as the law of attraction, popularized by the book The Secret. Recently a man in Georgia used the mental power effect successfully to make his front door invisible to solicitors while at the same time extremely inviting to attractive damsels in distress. When his wife discovered his secret she successfully used the mental power effect to have an illicit affair with his best friend. Now they live together in a gated community.

The mental power effect is a real effect. Proper understanding can actually magnify the degree to which it improves health. It can be summed up as subconscious cooperation with the therapeutic intervention.

What this means is that the patient is agreeing on a (usually) subconscious level to allow the therapy to work. The feel good positive outlook view maximizes the mental power effect.

The myofascial release view

The myofascial release view is the least entertaining and most scientific of all the views presented here. Therefore it must be true.

A muscle can get so tight that it impinges upon the nerve that controls it. This blocks the nerve so it can’t tell the muscle to relax. The nerve continues to send a relaxation signal to the muscle which is not received causing a buildup of neurotransmitters and inflammatory chemicals in the area.

The buildup of chemicals irritates the surrounding tissue causing pain.

Using acupressure or acupuncture at the junction between the nerve and the muscle relaxes the muscle spasm. This reduces inflammation and improves circulation.

The overloaded RAM view

Just like a computer, too many inputs simultaneously can cause the whole system to go haywire.

Or just




Remember above when I said the nervous system can’t do too many things at once? The more areas of tightness or blocked circulation you have in the body the more signals the nervous system has to send to report this information. This takes away resources that could be used for digestion, sleep, blood pressure regulation, and many other things, not the least of which is clear thinking.

Acupuncture reduces all of that white noise on the nervous system ultimately leading the body to function better on all levels. It takes the proverbial weight off of our shoulders, flings it off of a cliff, and then pees on its head (acupuncture hates the proverbial weight).

That’s why after a treatment many people go into a mellow trance.

Many get acupuncture for prevention even when they’re feeling good; it’s like rebooting the system, and I’m pretty sure there’s nothing amoral about getting a sweet natural high.

Acupuncture: homegrown and 100% pure since 1500 B.C., give or take a millennium.