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Exploring the Science of Acupuncture: How Needles Stimulate Healing

Updated: Jan 30

Acupuncture, an ancient practice rooted in traditional Chinese medicine, has been used for centuries to promote healing and restore balance in the body. While acupuncture has gained widespread recognition for its effectiveness, the scientific understanding of how it works has also evolved. In this article, we will delve into the science behind acupuncture and explore how the insertion of needles stimulates healing responses in the body.

The Concept of Qi and Meridians:

Central to acupuncture is the concept of Qi (pronounced "chee"), the vital energy that flows through the body along specific pathways called meridians. According to traditional Chinese medicine, disruptions or imbalances in Qi can lead to health issues. Acupuncture seeks to restore the smooth flow of Qi and rebalance the body's energy.

Neurophysiological Mechanisms:

Scientific research has shed light on the neurophysiological mechanisms underlying acupuncture's therapeutic effects. When acupuncture needles are inserted into specific points along the meridians, they stimulate sensory receptors in the skin and underlying tissues. These receptors then transmit signals to the central nervous system, triggering a cascade of responses.

Endorphin Release and Pain Modulation:

One of the well-known effects of acupuncture is its ability to relieve pain. Acupuncture activates the release of endorphins, the body's natural painkillers. Endorphins bind to opioid receptors in the brain and spinal cord, inhibiting the transmission of pain signals and promoting a sense of well-being.

Modulation of Neurotransmitters:

Acupuncture has been shown to affect various neurotransmitters in the central nervous system. Studies indicate that acupuncture can increase the release of serotonin, a neurotransmitter associated with mood regulation, and decrease the levels of substance P, a neuropeptide involved in pain transmission. These neurochemical changes contribute to the overall therapeutic effects of acupuncture.

Regulation of the Autonomic Nervous System:

Acupuncture has a regulatory effect on the autonomic nervous system (ANS), which controls many involuntary bodily functions. Research suggests that acupuncture can modulate the balance between the sympathetic and parasympathetic branches of the ANS, promoting relaxation, reducing stress, and enhancing overall well-being.

Local Microcirculatory Effects:

Acupuncture can also have localized effects on blood flow and microcirculation. Studies show that acupuncture increases blood flow to the needling site, promoting tissue oxygenation and the delivery of nutrients. This enhanced circulation can facilitate the healing process and support tissue repair.


The science behind acupuncture reveals that the insertion of needles stimulates a range of physiological responses in the body. By modulating neurotransmitters, releasing endorphins, regulating the autonomic nervous system, and enhancing local microcirculation, acupuncture promotes healing and restores balance. Understanding the scientific mechanisms of acupuncture helps demystify this ancient practice and highlights its potential as a complementary therapy within a comprehensive healthcare approach.

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