What is Acupuncture and Traditional Chinese Medicine?

Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) is a whole medical system based on the idea that the imbalances of the qi of the body causes diseases and injuries. It was developed in China thousands of years ago. If the flow of the body's qi is disrupted or not properly moving it will create an imbalance and may create pain. These imbalances are fixed by a variety of tools in traditional Chinese medicine where acupuncture is the most well known tool.

Why does acupuncture work? (Eastern Medicine Interpretation)

Fine needles are inserted in to specific body points that treat specific health issues in acupuncture. The Chinese has carefully mapped out more than a thousand known points over a two thousand year period. The existence and location of these acupuncture points have been validated through research in the past three decades. Ancient theories of the flow of qi through out the body are the foundation of traditional Chinese acupuncture.
From these theories, it is said that acupuncture modifies the flow of qi in the body. Acupuncture balances the body by restoring the flow of qi in the body which helps the body reach the best health and performance.

Why does acupuncture work? (Western Medicine Interpretation)

There is an abundant amount of sensory nerves distributed among the skin and muscles on the surface of the body. These nerves send information such as pain, itch, hot, and cold to the center of the sensory nerves of the cerebral cortex. Furthermore, along the pathway to the cerebral cortex, the information branches out to other parts such as the medulla oblongata, midbrain, and the hypothalamus. Since the medulla oblongata is the center of the autonomic nervous system, it is easy to imagine how the information from the sensory nerves among the skin and muscles relate to controlling the autonomic nerves.
In acupuncture, a thin needle is punctured in to the surface of the body. Through this method, the sensory nerves in the skin and muscles are stimulated which effect the activity of the autonomic nervous system.

From this point of view, the Western medicine methodology is used which elucidates the mechanism of acupuncture. From ancient times, the stomach meridian under the knees is a well known acupuncture point that has a great effect on gastrointestinal disorders. When the needles are inserted in these actual points, the stomach becomes more active. The needles to the stomach meridian will stimulate the sensory nerves in the skin and muscles and send the information through the spinal cord and up the medulla oblongata. As a result, the autonomic nerves get stimulated and accelerates the activity of the stomach。By the stimulation from the needle, the information from the sensory nerves will be relayed to the medulla oblongata, go through the parasympathetic system and adjusts the internal organs.
In traditional Chinese medicine, it is said acupuncture balances the ying and yang but if you reword it and say the balance of ying and yang is the balance of sympathetic and parasympathetic nerves, it is easy to understand the mechanism of acupuncture.

Acupuncture has effects on other parts of the nerves within the brain other than the autonomic nerves such as sympathetic and parasympathetic nerves. In a clinical study using MRI, a Harvard College group has reported that acupuncture stimulates the nerves that secretes morphine-like substances (Opioid: Intracerebral Narcotics)inside the brain. As the analgesic effect of acupuncture is well known, this is believed to be stimulated by the needle to release the morphine-like substances inside the brain. In addition, recently it has become known that the needle stimulation has also reached the hypothalamus and also releases the anti-stress hormone, oxytocin.

Conditions that are Susceptible to Acupuncture

Chronic pains such as stiff shoulder, frozen shoulder, stomachache, and knee joint pain are treated by analgesics and cold packs in western medicine but their effectiveness is not remarkable but very limited. There are a few side effects when using these such as stomachaches with analgesics and dermatitis from cold packs. It is the weakness of Western medicine.
Acupuncture is the first choice for treatment in these kinds of conditions. It is said that the reason why acupuncture works is because it stimulates the release of "morphine like substances" from inside the brain. It is also effective for other types of conditions such as high blood pressure, insomnia, stress, depression, diarrhea, stomachache, allergies, and cerebral infarction sequelae。It is said to be effective because acupuncture straightens out the imbalances in the autonomic nerves, activates the immune system, and releases anti-stress hormones called oxytocin.

Acupuncture is also used as a method of palliative care for cancer patients for its pain relief and nausea control effects.

In 2003 the World Health Organization (WHO) and the National Institutes of Health (NIH) released a report called "Acupuncture: Review and Analysis of Reports on Controlled Clinical Trials." (Complete Version of Report, PDF)

Below you will see a list of the conditions mentioned in this report.
Please note that there are plenty of additional conditions which centuries of empirical data have shown acupuncture treats effectively but for which there is little or no modern western research.

Cardiovascular Conditions

Conditions of the Eye, Ear, Nose & Mouth

Gastrointestinal Conditions

Gynecological Conditions

Musculo-skeletal Conditions

Neurological Conditions

Psychological Conditions

Respiratory System Conditions

Other Conditions