Acupuncture is a technique of inserting and manipulating needles into "acupuncture points" on the body. This will restore health and well-being according to acupunctural teachings. This is particularly good at treating pain. The definition and characterization of these points is standardized by the World Health Organization (WHO).
China is believed to be origin place of this health technique. Acupuncture is most commonly associated with Traditional Chinese medicine (TCM). Japanese, Korean, and classical Chinese acupuncture are different types of acupuncture. These are practiced and taught throughout the world.
The WHO, the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM) of the National Institute of Health (NIH), the American Medical Association (AMA) and various government reports have also studied and commented on the efficacy of acupuncture. Acupuncture is found to be safe when administered by well-trained practitioners, and that further research is warranted.
Chinese medicine is not based on scientific biomedicine. It has a different paradigm. According to traditional Chineese theory, Acupuncture treats the human body as a whole that involves several "systems of function" that are in some cases loosely associated with physical organs.
Some systems of function, such as the "triple heater" have no corresponding physical organ. Disease is understood as a loss of homeostasis among the several systems of function. The treatment of disease is attempted by modifying the activity of one or more systems of function through the activity of needles, pressure, heat, etc. on sensitive parts of the body of small volume. These are traditionally called "acupuncture points" in English, or "xue" (cavities) in Chinese. This is referred to as treating "patterns of disharmony".
Treatment of acupuncture points may be performed along the twelve main or eight extra meridians. These are located throughout the body, or on tender points, called "ashi" (signifying "that's it", "ouch", or "oh yes"). Only two have acupuncture points of their own out of the eight extra meridians. By using a master and couple point technique, the other six meridians are "activated" . It involves needling the acupuncture points located on the twelve main meridians that correspond to the particular extra meridian. Ten of the main meridians are named after organs of the body (Heart, Liver, etc.), and the other two are named after so called body functions (Heart Protector or Pericardium, and San Jiao). The meridians are capitalized to avoid confusion with a physical organ .
The location of two most important of the eight "extra" meridians are on the midline of the anterior and posterior aspects of the trunk and head. The twelve primary meridians run vertically, bilaterally, and symmetrically and every channel corresponds to and connects internally with one of the twelve Zang Fu ("organs"). This means that there are six yin and six yang channels. There are three yin and three yang channels on each arm, and three yin and three yang on each leg.
Pain transmission can also be modulated at many other levels in the brain along the pain pathways, including the periaqueductal gray, thalamus, and the feedback pathways from the cortex back to the thalamus. Each of these brain structure processes different aspect of the pain — from experiencing emotional pain to the perception of what the pain feels like to the recognition of how harmful the pain is to localizing where the pain is coming from.
Pain blockade at these brain locations are often mediated by neurohormones, especially those that bind to the opioid receptors. Pain relief by morphine drug (exogenous opioid) is acting on the same opioid receptor (where pain blockade occurs) as endorphins (endogenous opioids) that the brain produces and releases.
The Analgesic (pain-killing) action of acupuncture is mediated by stimulating the release of natural endorphins in the brain. This can be proven scientifically by blocking the action of endorphins (or morphine) using a drug called naloxone.
Such analgesic effect can also be shown to last more than an hour after acupuncture stimulation by recording the neural activity directly in the thalamus (pain processing site) of the monkey's brain.Moreover, there is a large overlap between the nervous system and acupuncture trigger points (points of maximum tenderness in myofascial pain syndrome).
The sites of action of acupuncture-induced analgesia are also confirmed to be mediated through the thalamus (where emotional pain/suffering is processed) using modern-day powerful non-invasive fMRI (functional magnetic resonance imaging) and PET (positron emission tomography) brain imaging techniques.