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From a Traditional Chinese Medicine perspective, acupuncture helps to keep Qi flowing properly through the meridians or channels of the human body. When Qi flows properly, it carries its life force to all of the organ networks, encouraging them to work harmoniously to promote good health.
Obstructions at one point in a meridian cause a deficiency of Qi “downstream”, and an excess “upstream”, which can cause diminished activity in some organs, and hyperactivity in others. This unhealthy state of affairs manifests itself as illness, pain, and other symptoms of disease.
An acupuncturist, in observing the symptoms of a disease, identifies the specific meridians or channels which are blocked, and attempts to normalize the flow of Qi by stimulating certain points along the meridians.
From a purely Western scientific perspective, when a needle is inserted into the skin, it sends a signal to the spinal cord and brain which instructs the nerve system to ignore pain which is present or to modify a particular body function.
Because a great deal about the operation of the nervous system is still unknown to modern science, and because acupuncture works via the nervous system, our ability to understand the mode of action of acupuncture is limited.