The first thing people should understand about acupuncture is that it is simply a tool. The person wielding the tool is responsible for what it can do. They might have any number of explanatory models and clinical strategies in mind. They may be more or less aware of their technique and the range of possibilities available at any given point on the body where a needle is inserted, or of how their own mechanics and attention influence the outcome. 

Acupuncture’s special ability is to stimulate the body to do what it naturally does. It probably cannot do anything else. If it relieves pain, it is in exactly the ways that your body naturally relieves pain, but not just by regulating neurotransmitters. If the fascia is needled, the fascia responds; likewise for muscles and tendons, which can be felt to move during treatment. The response of the vascular system is immediate, precise, and clearly palpable. The digestive system responds – often audibly! So all aspects of the pain, for example, can be addressed by the body.

Every cubic centimeter of the body is densely perfused with interconnected networks of tissue. These are the fabled acupuncture channels. Tracts of fascia, latitudinal and longitudinal blood vessels, nerve pathways and dermatomes. The ancient founders of acupuncture medicine studied these structures closely, in a methodical and rational way.

These lines are not literal representations of anything.

What makes those researchers of the classical period radical today is not any romantic idea of the body; it is just that they thought it – the actual flesh and blood human body – was alive, intelligent, and not entirely separate from any part of its environment. That is not an assertion. It is a description of a perspective that can be explored and which gave rise to an amazing form of medicine. It would be tragic to take acupuncture, a tool, and leave the perspective that has given it power and purpose for so long.

If you are looking for clinical trials and physiological mechanisms, I recommend you visit this site. Modern acupuncture research does definitively prove its clinical power, especially for pain.