Modern science is pursuing this question intently. The current status of research has identified thirteen sub-types of serotonin and that’s only one of many neurotransmitters being analysed. The answer that follows will make a lot more intrinsic sense to most people.

There are four different levels at which we can describe the process of needling acting on the human body: the muscle tension level, the immune response level, the Qi level and the connective tissue level.


If you press on or lean into a tight muscle with a steady pressure, sooner or later that muscle will relax; the spasm dissolves and the muscle returns to its normal tone. In the same manner, an acupuncture needle inserted into a tight muscle has a similar effect, the muscle relaxes.


The body recognises an acupuncture needle as an invasion by a foreign object and this initiates an immune response. It is like a red alert when all the natural defences of the body are activated and the body’s attention is focused on the area.

The primary physiological outcome of the immune response is an increase in microcirculation around the needle. This occurs via a dilation of blood vessels and a general relaxation of muscle tissue. Enhanced circulation allows the body to increase local levels of immune cells, red and white blood cells, phagocytes, hormones and T-cells.

As well as the increase in specific blood cells, the general increase in blood flow generates higher levels of oxygenation and nutrition to the tissues. Perhaps more importantly, increased blood flow leads to a more efficient elimination of carbon dioxide, thus reducing acidity in the tissues and enhancing cellular function. The body also produces endorphins, natural pain relieving chemicals that enhance muscular relaxation and increase the feeling of well-being at the tissue level.


The explanation given above is common sense; anyone with a basic understanding of anatomy and physiology would have to agree that it is true. However, if we want to explore the issue more fully we need to introduce the Oriental Medicine concept of Qi or Life Force, a subtle vitalising factor or energy that permeates the body and flows in a set of particular pathways known as meridians or channels. This explanation will not satisfy the hard line scientist. Qi cannot be measured, it therefore remains speculative; yet from the CM practitioner’s viewpoint it is enough to observe the activity of Qi, we know Qi by tracking its footprints.

The channels are defined by a series of points on the surface of the body where the flow of Qi is distinctly revealed. These acupuncture points, of which there are several hundred in the body, actually demonstrate a different electrical resistance on the skin surface (therefore there appears to be some scientific basis to their existence).