What is Acupuncture?

Acupuncture is one aspect of what the Chinese call “Zhen-Jiu”, which roughly translates as “Needle (Zhen) – Burn (Jiu)”. This refers to just two of the forms of treatment which form the whole of traditional Chinese medicine. Acupuncture refers to the practice of inserting fine metal needles into specific locations on the body in order to stimulate the body’s own natural healing processes. Chinese medicine in its entirety encompasses not only acupuncture and moxibustion but also herbal and dietary therapies, Tuina (a form of soft tissue and joint manipulation), and the Chinese exercise arts including Taijiquan, (pronounced tie-jee-chwan) as well as Qigong [ch’i kung], and Wu Shu (martial arts, sometimes called kung-fu).

For more than 2500 years, Chinese philosophers have observed the natural world. They watched the rising and setting of the sun, the change of the seasons, the patterns of weather and climate, and the effects of wind, heat, humidity, drought, and cold upon the world around them. They noticed that the human body acts just like the natural environment in its response to the forces of nature. Just as water slows and freezes in the winter, so do body processes slow and tissues contract at cold temperatures. As temperatures rise, chemical reactions in the body speed up, as activity levels in nature increase as the temperatures rise. The application of cold to a fever can have the same effect as throwing water on a fire. The points and procedures of the acupuncture prescription are chosen to rebalance the body and give it the momentum to maintain that balance.


How Does Acupuncture Work?

There are pathways — or channels — throughout the body, which carry the energy that permeates us. These pathways have been identified and utilized for centuries. Studies in France by Jean-Claude Darras (1993) and others, have revealed the existence of these pathways using techniques of modern Western science. Acupuncture stimulates the body’s intrinsic healing abilities by activating or influencing specific points on these energetic channels. Each acupuncture point is like a tunnel, or access route, to the deeper circulatory channels within. They are points on the body where that energy surfaces, and stimulating them influences those energetics back towards health.

The other half of “Zhen-Jiu” , which we may translate as “burn”, refers to the practice of moxibustion, or “Jiu”, which is used to supplement the body’s own energetic supply in case of deficient energies. Moxibustion is the burning of an herb, moxa, over specific acupuncture points. The herb most commonly used is Artemisia vulgaris L., or common mugwort, although other herbs are also used for specific conditions. It is commonly formed into sticks or cones for therapeutic use. When burned and held one to two inches from the skin, it gently warms the energetic points, stimulating and strengthening them. The burning moxa does not touch nor burn the skin. While acupuncture works with the energy that is already there, and acts to redirect the body towards health, moxibustion actually increases its energetic strength. Moxa builds, acupuncture directs and balances.

A common misconception is that acupuncture works merely by stimulating the body to produce its natural painkillers, called endorphins. While this is a good explanation of acupuncture’s powerful effect on pain control, it does not explain how it influences such conditions as allergies, colitis, or infertility. These mechanisms have yet to be explained, although they are conditions commonly addressed in clinical practice and increasingly in clinical research.

Americans are discovering what the European community has known for nearly 100 years: that Chinese medicine can treat a great deal more than pain, toothaches, smoking addiction and weight loss. It is an entire system of health care which addresses the underlying causes of disease, and thus can facilitate improvement of nearly all conditions. After all, a system of health care that has endured for thousands of years, treating one-quarter of the world’s population, proves its own merit through its longevity.


Darras J, Albarède P, de Vernejoul P. Nuclear medicine investigation of transmission of acupuncture information.