Acupuncture regulates pain by affecting the central nervous system and releasing the body’s natural pain killer, endorphins.


Acupuncture is the insertion of extremely thin and sterile needles into the surface of the skin. Pain is minimal (similar to pinching the skin) or non-existent. After insertion, sensations that are usually felt include warmth, distension, pressure, dull ache, or tingling. The one sensation that shouldn’t be felt is sharp pain. If sharp pain is felt the patient should speak up, the needle will be adjusted and the pain should disappear.

Acupuncture needles in closeup

So what does acupuncture do? In the western model, acupuncture works through a few different pathways. The following is taken directly from the US government’s National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine’s web site:

Preclinical studies have documented acupuncture's effects, but they have not been able to fully explain how acupuncture works within the framework of the Western system of medicine that is commonly practiced in the United States.1-6 It is proposed that acupuncture produces its effects through regulating the nervous system, thus aiding the activity of pain-killing biochemicals such as endorphins and immune system cells at specific sites in the body. In addition, studies have shown that acupuncture may alter brain chemistry by changing the release of neurotransmitters and neurohormones and, thus, affecting the parts of the central nervous system related to sensation and involuntary body functions, such as immune reactions and processes that regulate a person's blood pressure, blood flow, and body temperature.7,8


  1. Eskinazi DP. NIH Technology Assessment Workshop on Alternative Medicine: Acupuncture. Gaithersburg, Maryland, USA, April 21-22, 1994. Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine. 1996;2(1):1-256.
  2. Tang NM, Dong HW, Wang XM, et al. Cholecystokinin antisense RNA increases the analgesic effect induced by electroacupuncture or low dose morphine: conversion of low responder rats into high responders. Pain. 1997;71(1):71-80.
  3. Cheng XD, Wu GC, He QZ, et al. Effect of electroacupuncture on the activities of tyrosine protein kinase in subcellular fractions of activated T lymphocytes from the traumatized rats. Acupuncture and Electro-Therapeutics Research. 1998;23(3-4):161-170.
  4. Chen LB, Li SX. The effects of electrical acupuncture of Neiguan on the PO2 of the border zone between ischemic and non-ischemic myocardium in dogs. Journal of Traditional Chinese Medicine. 1983;3(2):83-88.
  5. Lee HS, Kim JY. Effects of acupuncture on blood pressure and plasma renin activity in two-kidney one clip Goldblatt hypertensive rats. American Journal of Chinese Medicine. 1994;22(3-4):215-219.
  6. Okada K, Oshima M, Kawakita K. Examination of the afferent fiber responsible for the suppression of jaw-opening reflex in heat, cold, and manual acupuncture stimulation in rats. Brain Research. 1996;740(1-2):201-207.
  7. Takeshige C. Mechanism of acupuncture analgesia based on animal experiments. In: Pomerantz B, Stux G, eds. Scientific Bases of Acupuncture. Berlin, Germany: Springer-Verlag; 1989.
  8. Lee BY, LaRiccia PJ, Newberg AB. Acupuncture in theory and practice. Hospital Physician. 2004;40:11-18.

The archaeological record of acupuncture dates back to least 3,000 BCE with the discovery of stone acupuncture needles in Inner Mongolia.

Chinese Medicine