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What is acupuncture and how does it work?

Thinking about incorporating acupuncture into your health and wellbeing routine, or as part of a pain management plan? Before you take the plunge, you might be wondering just what acupuncture is and how it works to improve your overall health and wellbeing.

Acupuncture: from ancient China to today

Acupuncture is an ancient healing practice originating in China around 3,000 years ago, that involves inserting thin needles beneath the skin. It has been developed over centuries as traditions and knowledge were passed down, until it became standard practice in China alongside other health and wellbeing measures like diet, massage and traditional herb use (1).

Acupuncture first came to the Western world around 1680, when a European physician witnessed it practiced in Japan. Since then, it has come in and out of fashion in the Western world and was often sought out as an alternative treatment for conventional western medicine (1).

The Qi flows and insertion points acupuncture is built around were already well established by traditional practitioners by the time the practice came to the western world. As acupuncture has become increasingly well-known in the modern world, scientific research has not only shed light on how traditional acupuncture practices can help with things like pain management, nausea relief, and headache dissipation, but have also helped to refine current practice (1).

Today, the World Health Organization reports that acupuncture is used in 103 of 129 countries reported on (2).

How does acupuncture work?

Traditionally, acupuncture was believed to work by removing blockages in the flow of energy, known as Qi, around the body (3). By removing these blockages, the body is better able to heal, making it a great option for those seeking a natural treatment.

In current practice, research suggests acupuncture may stimulate the central nervous system, triggering a biochemical process that releases chemicals into muscles, along the spinal cord and even into the brain. This may promote the body’s natural healing – just as unblocking Qi flow does (6).

One study suggested that acupuncture has a significant impact on particular neural structures and helps to block parts of the brain that are associated with pain.1 It may also help by (3):

  • lowering inflammation

  • increasing blood flow

  • triggering endorphin release

What conditions can our acupuncturist help with?

Like any medical therapy, how effective acupuncture is and which conditions it is effective for can differ between patients. Having said that, there is considerable research that suggests acupuncture has a marked positive effect for many conditions – one study identified over 100 conditions where acupuncture was effectively used as part of a treatment (4).

Some of the conditions commonly helped by acupuncture practice include:

  • Pain relief (usually for areas such as neck, lower back, sciatica, knees, and other joints) (3,5)

  • Digestion and gut complaints

  • Depression, stress and anxiety (3,5)

  • Nausea and dizziness (5)

  • Fatigue

  • Insomnia and sleep problems

  • Headaches (5)

  • Menstrual cramping, labour pains (3,5) and menopause

How often should I get acupuncture treatments?

This depends entirely on your condition and your body. Many patients find that weekly sessions are helpful, but our team can work with you to find a frequency that works for your needs.

What’s the difference between acupuncture and dry needling?

While acupuncture is believed to stimulate the nervous system using specific acupuncture points, dry needling is focused on muscles.

Dry needling is a much newer practice than acupuncture, where fine, short, stainless-steel needles are inserted into muscle or tissue, with the goal of relieving tightness and pain in surrounding muscles (3,5).

Ready to get started and try out acupuncture? Our friendly team can help get you started. Book in today.


1 J Jishun Hao, M Mittelman., Acupuncture: Past, Present, and Future, Glob Adv Health Med, 2014

2 P Murray, D Shurtleff, H Langevin., Acupuncture: What You Need To Know, National Centre for Complementary and Integrative Health, 2022

3 K Boyle, K Holland., Dry Needling vs. Acupuncture: Which Is Right for You?, Healthline, 2022

4 MH Koppelman, Acupuncture: An Overview of Scientific Evidence, Evidence Based Acupuncture

5 D Wilson, J Fletcher., Dry needling vs. acupuncture: What the research says, Medical News Today, 2018

6 John Hopkins, Acupuncture, 2022


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