How Acupuncture Works

Clearing Misconceptions about Acupuncture

Acupuncture works by stimulating the nervous and circulatory systems. A common misconception regarding acupuncture is that "energy flows through meridans" and that puncturing the acupuncture points "adjusts the 'energy' or 'Qi' in the meridians" to restore health.  The idea of energy coursing through meridians can be traced to George Soulié de Morant, a Frenchman who lived in China in the early 1900's. He translated several Chinese medical texts into French and used the word "energy" for the Chinese word "Qi' and the word "meridians" for the Chinese word "Jingluo". His work was later translated into German and English and the idea of "energy" and "meridians" became commonplace in the Western world.


According to Paul Unschuld, one of the foremost scholars in Chinese Medicine, there is no historical basis for translating the Chinese word "Qi" as "energy"(1).  The original meaning of "Qi" was "something that flows that cannot be grasped". The Chinese used the word "Qi" to describe both substances and functions. There are many types of Qi, for example, the Qi of Air, the Nutrient Qi, the Defensive Qi of the body, or the Jing Qi which was passed from parent to child, are some examples.  We now know that the Qi of Air is oxygen, the Nutrient Qi refers to the fats, carbohydrates, proteins, vitamins, minerals, and other substances that we get from food to sustain life. Defensive Qi was the term used by ancient Chinese physicians to describe the immune system. Jing Qi now can be thought of as DNA which is passed from parents to child. We now know that "Qi" described physiological concepts the Chinese were aware of but didn't fully comprehend.


The Chinese word "Jingluo" refers to blood vessels not "invisible meridians."

The pathways drawn on charts (see model left) show an acupuncturist areas of the body affected by points with common functions.


Unfortunately the mistranslation of "Qi" and "Jingluo" is now pervasive throughout the field of acupuncture and because of it acupuncture has been left on the fringe of modern medicine.  Once we understand that these words were mistranslated we can understand the correct explanation of how acupuncture works is by the activation and control of the circulatory, endocrine, lymphatic, and nervous system's.



(1) Unschuld, Paul U. and Tessenow, Hermann, Huang Di nei jing su wen, An Annotated Translation of Huang Di's Inner Classic - Basic Questions, Volume I, Chapters 1 through 52, University of California Press, 2011, page 20.