As acupuncturists, we deal with a little thing called “Qi” every day. Some readers are familiar with it, I’m sure. If you haven’t heard of it, this is a difficult concept to grasp because there is no equivalent English word for it. An acupuncturist I know once cleverly described it to me as “the difference between a dead body and a living body.” Both are anatomically identical, but the living body is filled with vital force. This vital force – or Qi – helps us circulate blood throughout our bodies, digest food to convert it into nutrients mobilizes our limbs to carry out our daily tasks – basically, every action our bodies perform.

Acupuncturists view muscular pain and joint pain as the stagnation of Qi and blood. Maybe you damaged or entangled muscle fibers in an injury, or chronically bad posture has put unnecessary restraints on some areas of your body. These conditions cause blockage of healthy circulation of blood and body fluid in the injured area, and of course block the circulation of Qi. We clearly see this example of unhealthy circulation when the injured area becomes inflamed and swollen. If the injury is left untreated, metabolic waste products start to accumulate due to poor circulation and the pain becomes more serious and chronic.

Qi runs in meridians – or channels – throughout our bodies. There are at least six meridians on each limb and fourteen on the trunk. If there is discomfort anywhere on your body, it is likely to be on at least one meridian, which acupuncturists will work on. Our job as acupuncturists is to identify where the blockage is and clear it by insertion of needles. The points chosen would be classical points that are proven effective in opening the whole channel, some points that might coincidentally overlap “trigger points” of individual muscles, and possibly some points that are plain old tender spots. In any case, the insertion of needles reminds our body to create healthy circulation in the injured area.

The healthy circulation of blood provides enough nutrients to promote tissue repair, and the smooth flow of lymph picks up metabolic waste from the area. Pain is often triggered by the unhealthy circulation of blood or by the build-up of toxins. If these two factors are removed, the pain should decrease and many symptoms may subside.

So where does Qi fit into this healing process? The Chinese call blood the “Mother of Qi.” Qi cannot promote various physiological activities without nourishment from blood. Qi is also the functionality of blood circulation. It is the force that pumps blood throughout the body. The body has an innate ability to heal itself. This ability is also orchestrated by our vital force, Qi. When a needle is inserted, it is a wake-up call to our bodies, reminding the injured area that it needs a smooth flow of Qi, which facilitates the healing process.