Acupuncture is based on the flow of qi (vital energy) through pathways in the body known as meridians. Twelve regular meridians correspond to each of the six yin and six yang organs — the spleen meridian to the spleen organ, the large intestine meridian to the large intestine organ, and so on. Eight extra meridians are also used in acupuncture therapy.
Disharmony in an organ often shows up in its corresponding meridian. Practitioners can palpate a point on the corresponding meridian to assess the health of its related organ and sometimes the meridians themselves are treated.
For example, a practitioner might treat a sore shoulder by increasing the flow of qi and blood through the large intestine, lung, and triple burner meridians. The organs related to these meridians may be completely healthy but these meridians are selected because they pass through the are of the injured shoulder. Although they flow deep within the body, each meridian has specific points that can be accessed from the surface of the body.
Acupuncture points can be stimulated by means needling, pressure or heat. Each point has a specific set of functions. Some of these functions have local effects, while some are systemic.
One of the most important points in acupuncture is Zusanli and it is used to treat stomach pain, vomiting, indigestion, diarrhea, constipation, dizziness, fatigue, and low immunity. Needling it often relieves stomach pain immediately. Modern research has confirmed that applying needles to this point actually raises the white blood cell count. Acupuncture has been practiced since ancient times with needles made from stone, wood, ivory, or bone. Modern practitioners use surgical-quality stainless steel needles although some needles can be plated with silver, gold, or copper to achieve special effects from the treatment, such as tonification or sedation.
Needles are used only once and then discarded as medical waste, which gives peace of mind to patients, practitioners, and insurance companies as there are no worries about whether they have been sterilized adequately. . Research in China and Japan with electrical conductivity has confirmed the tangible existence of the acupuncture points and double-blind studies have shown acupuncture is safe and effective in treating a wide range of diseases.
The World Health Organization (WHO) has compiled a list of ailments for which acupuncture treatment is effective. Of course, acupuncture is especially well known for its treatment of pain and it is so effective for pain relief, it is even used as a substitute for anesthesia in some surgical procedures in Chinese hospitals!