All Things Chinese Medicine:

How Does Acupuncture Work?

If we had a dollar every time we got asked how acupuncture works, we’d be millionaires!

So let’s get straight to the point (pardon the pun) and explain acupuncture to you.

What is Acupuncture?

Acupuncture is the insertion of very fine needles into specific points on the body to create a therapeutic effect, such as pain relief or hormonal balancing. The therapeutic effect happens when the body’s Qi (pronounced ‘chi’) is stimulated and regulated. This can release blockages, promote flow and circulation, as well as strengthen and balance the bodily functions, substances and organs.

Still don’t get how acupuncture works?
Perhaps this abstract concept of an energy or life force called Qi flowing through your body sounds too weird to grasp. Let’s flow on to explain Qi to you.

What is Qi?

Without getting too morbid, imagine a dead person or animal.
All the physical parts are still there including the skin, muscles, organs, hair, cells etc. But something vital is missing…the Qi.
Qi is the energy, life and driving force that makes all the physical aspects of a living being or thing function. It is the force that makes the difference between a pumping heart and a dead heart.

There is Qi both inside us and outside us. Oxygen is considered a type of Qi, and as you know oxygen is essential for staying alive whether you’re a person, an animal or a plant.

Your Qi flows through a pathway system called meridians reaching and activating all parts of your body. Qi also flows between you and your external environments, for instance through breathing, eating and touching.

For a 2 minute explanation of acupuncture and Qi by Dr. Jingduan Yang watch this video.


More on Meridians?

The Qi pathways also referred to as meridians or channels form an extensive and intricate circulatory network in and on your body.
Imagine the electrical wiring of a house. It’s not dissimilar to your own Qi ‘energy’ network. The acupuncture points on your body resemble an electrical switchboard where switches can be checked, regulated and turned on and off as required for balance. Using that analogy acupuncturists are like electricians…we can check your Qi circuits to determine what might be causing energy shortages and to detect any faulty connections in your system (preferably before a fire is triggered or your power cuts out!)

Meridians can also be compared to networks of city roads as Dr Zhen Zheng from RMIT explains here


Does Acupuncture Hurt?
The other million dollar questions we get asked all the time are:

What does acupuncture feel like?
Does acupuncture hurt?
Is acupuncture safe?

Having acupuncture is not like having an injection or a blood test. Generally acupuncture is not unpleasant nor painful. The sterile, disposable acupuncture needles are very fine (see size comparison).


A slight prick or a little sting might be felt when the needle is initially inserted, but many people don’t even feel this. Sensations during an acupuncture treatment vary between individuals and are usually described as either a dull, numb, buzzing, tingling or heavy feeling in the area(s) needled.
Where the needles are inserted and the number of needles used in a treatment depends on the complaint, the treatment strategy, the client and the practitioner. Personally I tend to use between 5 and 25 needles in a standard treatment.
The acupuncture needles are usually retained for 15-30 minutes. Likewise this depends on the treatment strategy, but also on the age and constitution of the patient. Once the needles are in place most people find acupuncture very relaxing. It’s not uncommon for us to hear the sound of snoring coming from our rooms when our clients doze off during treatments!

Watch this little clip to see what an acupuncture treatment with acupuncturist Nick Conquest at Gardenvale Traditional Chinese Medicine might be like.

Is Acupuncture Safe?

Qualified acupuncturists study for years and undertake extensive training. They know where and how to insert the needles safely. So if you have acupuncture from a qualified acupuncturist, such as Nick Conquest and myself, it’s very safe.
Occasionally a small bruise can appear at the site of needling. This is most likely to happen in people who bruise easily at the best of times, and is generally not a cause for concern.
Side effects from acupuncture are extremely rare, unless you consider feeling extremely relaxed or even a little ‘spaced out’ during or after a treatment a side effect.

Who Can Have Acupuncture?

Who can’t!
Unless you suffer from a bleeding disorder acupuncture is generally safe and can be relevant for anyone who is interested in feeling better.

For more information on acupuncture treatments for children and during pregnancy go to our FAQ.

What Conditions Can Acupuncture Help?

The range of conditions and complaints acupuncture can potentially help is too big and broad to cover here. To give you a little bit of an idea…a normal day at our clinic involves treating anything from a sore neck, to period pain, digestive issues, childhood eczema, common colds, arthritis, anxiety, and insomnia, to hair loss, infertility and chronic auto-immune disorders.

Head to our website for a wealth of information on the areas of health we mostly focus on treating with acupuncture.

If YOU have a health concern, a condition or an ailment which is not mentioned on our website, it doesn’t mean we can’t help you.

Feel free to call us on 9530 6566 to find out if acupuncture could benefit you.

We look forward to hearing from you 🙂

Christina TolstrupBy acupuncturist Christina Tolstrup (May 2016)


If you’re interested in more details and have an hour to spare why not follow the skeptical professor Kathy Syke on a journey of acupuncture discovery in this BBC program, and gain insight into some of the science behind how acupuncture works