How does acupuncture work and what exactly are meridians and acupoints? 针灸如何产生疗效?经络及穴位又是什么呢?

Updated: Jan 25

Acupuncture Model

In the previous article we discussed about what acupuncture actually feels like, but do you also know how it actually works in your body?

Is acupuncture just for treating physical injuries or is it also effective for internal issues? Why does the TCM practitioner insert a needle into my arm if he/she is treating my insomnia?

To better understand the mechanisms behind acupuncture, it is important to appreciate what meridians and acupoints are first.

So what are meridians?

Simply put, meridians (经络) are channels along the body in which our Qi flows. There are many individual channels in the body, but they are all interconnected in some ways and form a continuous network of channels throughout the body for the Qi to flow.

Inserting a needle not only treats a problem in the local area, but can also tackle problems located further down the meridian, as well as treat organs which the meridian is associated with.

Why is the interconnection of meridians so important?

This interconnection provides a link between the different parts of the body, as well as between the body surface and the interior. This is why performing acupuncture on one's finger can soothe a sore throat, or inserting a needle in the arm can cure ailments of the internal organs.

For example, if a patient is diagnosed with insomnia due to imbalances in the heart, inserting a needle in specific acupoints along the heart meridian can help treat the heart and improve sleep. (Since the exterior part of the heart meridian runs from the armpit down to the little finger, the needle will thus be inserted on the arm somewhere along this line.)

Therefore, due to this interconnected network of meridians, inserting a needle not only treats a problem in the local area, but can also tackle problems located further down the meridian, as well as treat organs which the meridian is associated with. This is why acupuncture is able to treat both physical injuries and internal ailments.

How about acupoints?

Acupoints (腧穴/穴位) are designated points on the body surface where inserting a needle produces the required therapeutic effect. Performing acupuncture on non-acupoints will not yield the same effect. Most acupoints are located along meridians. Inserting needles into acupoints allows a TCM practitioner to influence the Qi flowing in the meridian (among other effects) and correct imbalances in the body.

Acupoints that belong on the same meridian will have some similarities with regards to what they can treat. However each individual acupoint will still have its own unique scope of ailments it can tackle. For example, on the heart meridian, several acupoints can be used to treat heart palpitations, and one particular point named 神门 (Shén Mén) can treat insomnia and high blood pressure as well.

It is these basic characteristics of meridians and acupoints that makes acupuncture so effective and fascinating. While all these concepts may seem abstract, research has uncovered some evidence of acupuncture that allows us to better understand it from the perspective of modern science. These will be discussed in a future article about the science of acupuncture.