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Acupuncture influences function rather than structure. Functional problems such as muscle spasm, joint pain or swelling, and the localized inflammatory response of soft tissue trauma (whether on an acute or chronic basis) can be readily influenced by acupuncture. Acupuncture treatment often involves the use of the body's reflexes. A reflex is an automatic response to a stimulus that cannot be consciously controlled.
For those in more "traditional" fields of medicine, looking at acupuncture from a "Western Perspective" becomes helpful in understanding why controlled stimulation of various acupuncture points works. That's particularly true when those points coincide with commonly recognized trigger points. If one considers the healing process as producing a controlled, sterile, and harmless trauma, the body's physiological defense mechanisms then respond in a desirable fashion (i.e. the "reflex" discussed above), such as increased production of endorphins, improved circulation, improved immune response, and thereby, decreased inflammation. Practitioners of acupuncture in the traditional oriental fashion however, have an entirely different concept; that of meridians and bio-electrical energy (called "chi") flowing along those meridians, to explain why the procedure works. In this instance, it becomes useful to think of the meridians as "rivers" and the acupuncture ponts as "gates or switches" by which the quality and quantity of this "energy" may be controlled or directed. From the "Oriental Perspective", the issues are those of balance and harmony among the several meridians.