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How Acupuncture Works

Acupuncture works on the brain to help the body heal.


By Toni Twitty
Acupuncture OKC: Chinese Medicine Expert


My first ever exposure to Acupuncture was watching “The Real World” on MTV when I was like 14. Pedro had HIV and sought Acupuncture for relief of his symptoms. It was pretty mesmerizing, but I was so not ever going to try Acupuncture, so whatever. Fast forward 14 years and I had debilitating neck and shoulder pain for which I had been convinced to try Acupuncture. The first question I asked my Acupuncturist was, “How does Acupuncture work?” Her answer was a dry, “Here- read this.” as she handed me a book. A little over a year later I started Acupuncture school, and finding how Acupuncture works was no simple task. Now that I’m an Acupuncturist, I get asked this question at least 20 times per day. I have my little 10 second spiel about how it manipulates body chemicals- which is true…but is a very basic explanation. So here goes my attempt to take the fine art of Acupuncture and translate how it relates to healing in real medical science. 


What The Chinese Believe


Chinese Medicine teaches that there is Yin and that there is Yang and they live together in perfect harmony. Remember those ying-yang necklaces from Spencers circa 1997? We are talking about that black and white, in the perfect balance of colors that your choker had with a little dot of each color in the opposite half. Now try to remember the ying-yangs you drew in 7th grade English which were wonky and definitely not a perfect balance. In Chinese Medicine the goal is to be the Spencer’s edition, but in reality we are more likely to be the hand-drawn rough draft from English class. So how do we become perfectly balanced?  We use Acupuncture to help coax the body from the state its currently in, to the Spencer’s gift shop hall of fame that it should be in. We do this by using pathways of energy in the body, which we called meridians. This is a very primary explanation, but it gets to the essence of the theory. Clear as mud? Great, now lets look at what modern science has to say about how Acupuncture works.


The Theories


There are 5 main theories and dozens of new, up-and-coming theories on how Acupuncture works. While we (Acupuncturists) constantly debate on why we think Acupuncture works so well, science has done genuine studies on how it works. Here are a few of the theories that they have come up with:

The Augmentation of Immunity Theory states that Acupuncture elicits a magical response in the body that makes the immune system produce various body chemicals like hormones and blood cells. This is among my favorite theories because A) There is magic involved and B) Body chemicals are how the body heals itself on a regular basis. It makes complete sense that Acupuncture has survived for over 5000 years when you consider that it unleashes our body’s ability to heal itself. If it didn’t help heal the body, it would have died off thousands of years ago.

The Endorphin Theory believes that Acupuncture stimulates the body to release endorphins, which are the feel good hormones. Almost anyone who has had Acupuncture can tell you about the “Qi-Stoned” or “Qi-high” feeling that takes over your body after an Acupuncture session- that is your endorphins at work. Endorphins act like opioids, so they are like natural morphine! 

The Neurotransmitter Theory is basically that body chemicals like serotonin  are affected by Acupuncture. This could be why we know that depression and anxiety respond well to Acupuncture. 

The Circulatory Theory states that Acupuncture controls the dilation or constriction of the blood vessels. This could bring blood to injured parts of the body to promote healing. 

The Gate Control Theory is among the most popular and it includes that pain perception is controlled by a part of the nervous system that regulates nerve impulses, which can be interpreted as pain. So basically, it states that Acupuncture suppresses enough of the nerve impulses to prevent the brain from recognizing pain impulses. 


Which One Is Right?


So which one is truly how Acupuncture works? In my experience, it seems that all of them have a rightful place.  I also believe that certain areas of the brain, muscle fibers, and maybe even the Lymphatic system get in on the action- which is where the real magic happens. I’ve seen people with Cardiac issues get relief from Acupuncture, but I’ve also helped to heal injuries, gotten rid of pain, aided infertile couples, resolved digestive issues, and even reduced the effects of a prior stroke.

My long-standing question has been, “Do I even care about how Acupuncture works?” And you know what? I do. But I don’t… No matter what, I’m still down for it because Acupuncture Works. I’m sure that one day we will know the exact mechanism of how Acupuncture does all the of the miraculous things that its touted for, but until then throw a little trust toward your local licensed Acupuncturist and let them use tiny needles to make you feel better- even if it’s just for a little qi-high. 



okc acupuncture
Toni Twitty, Acupuncture Physician


Toni Twitty, Acupuncture Physician at Be Well Acupuncture Edmond, OK is an highly respected expert Acupuncturist. She specializes in resolving pain, treating chronic conditions, and fertility. Learn more about Toni and get started on your road to better health at:











References:, Trudy Moore, 20

Kaptchuk, Ted J. The Web That Has No Weaver: Understanding Chinese Medicine. New York: Congdon & Weed, 1983. Print.

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