There are five physiological mechanisms which can be used to explain how medical acupuncture works. Each can be used for a different purpose which is why anyone using medical acupuncture must be able to make a conventional medical diagnosis and have an understanding of the underlying pathology to be effective when using a medical approach.
The different mechanisms require variations in the treatment technique and so this needs to be tailored to the individual patient.
This refers to the ability of acupuncture to activate specific sensory nerve fibres in the skin and muscle. Needling near the sensory nerve endings sets off action potentials (nerve impulses) which spread around and along the local network of nerve fibres – this is called an axon reflex. Various substances are released as a result including adenosine and calcitonin gene related peptide (CGRP) both of which cause local blood vessels to dilate causing an increase in local blood flow. The blood flow is also increased in the deeper tissues which encourages tissue healing. Adenosine also has a mild local pain relieving effect effect, while CGRP may also promote healing and repair.