Classical Chinese medicine is based wholly on the original classical medicine texts written in China as early as 3000-5000 years ago. Archaeologists have found both acupuncture needles and divination bones on which medical discussions were inscribed dating to the late Shang Dynasty (~1000 B.C.).
In 1991, a mummified man who lived around 3300 B.C. was found in the Otztal Alps with tattoos on either side of his spine, behind his knee and around his ankle. These tattoos represent acupuncture points. Scientists speculate he may have been suffering with arthritis.
For further details about Classical Chinese Medicine go to http://www.jungtao.edu/index.php/classical-chinese-medicine.
The Eastern theory regarding acupuncture is much more complex. There are 12 primary channels throughout the body that run vertically, bilaterally and symmetrically. Each channel is named after a primary organ (Lung, Large Intestine, Stomach, Spleen, Heart, Small Intestine, Urinary Bladder, Kidney, Pericardium, San Jiao [a chinese system], Gallbladder, and Liver). When an acupuncturist speaks of these organs they may not be talking about the literal organ, but more of the organ pathway.
There are hundreds of points on these channels. Each point is considered to be where Qi is known to collect. Qi, blood and fluids are supposed to flow smoothly throughout the body. Disease occurs when there is stagnation. When stagnation occurs, a nodule, pain or heat may be felt at that point, and inserting a needle will unblock the stagnation. Sometimes points are empty or feel hollow, so a needle is inserted to supplement the point by bringing Qi to the area. In each of these cases a different needling technique is used.
Based on your intake, a good practitioner will know which points and technique to use. Your initial intake form will give your practitioner information to start treating you, but you should report any changes or additional concerns you have at follow up appointments.
Qi is a fundamental unit in East Asian Medicine that has not yet been explained by Western Scientists. There are entire books written about Qi. It has been loosely defined as energy or life-force, but most scholars will say this too is wrong.
A practitioner and their patient will feel something when the needle has stimulated Qi. For the patient it can be best described as a dull achey heavy sensation, but each acupuncture point has a different Qi sensation. Many people will say it's a nerve sensation, but if a needle hits a nerve, it is very painful. So while Western Scientists catch up with the East, we will have to wait for a more solid definition that better explains Qi.
Physics may offer more insight in the understanding of Qi (chi). The findings of modern physics are now translating to those of Chinese Medicine. Both suggest that our bodies are essentially a composite of trillions of frequencies. These frequencies are communicated as Qi and Jing. This Yin and Yang behavior plays out in the form of cells, organ and tissues which are constantly vibrating and communicating with one another along with the external environment.
It seems that in addition to being physical beings, on a more basic level we are beings of energy whose chemical processes are dependent upon the flow of energy throughout our bodies. The scientific field of physics has confirmed the principals of Chinese Medicine beginning with Einstein's discovery that energy and matter are interchangeable.
The Western world has many research supported theories as to how Acupuncture works, here are six:
Acupuncture treats a wide variety of symptoms, conditions and diseases. The World Health Organization (WHO) lists the following symptoms, diseases and conditions that have been shown through controlled trials to be treated effectively by acupuncture.
The WHO lists the following symptoms, diseases and conditions for which the therapeutic effect of acupuncture has been shown, but further research and study is needed. The tools available to study this type of medicine are inadequate in measuring the outcome of all three elements of our being: body, soul and spirit.
Acupuncture should not cause much pain, but the needle may hurt as it breaks the skin, usually this pain goes away quickly. Once the needle is inserted it will be gently manipulated until Qi is felt. How acupuncture feels will vary depending on where the needle is placed on the body. If you are sick or on your menses it may be more sensitive. If you are sensitive, your practitioner can change the thickness of the needle, or may have you do breathing exercises while the needles are inserted to reduce sensation. Overall most patients do not consider acupuncture to be painful and they find the benefits outweigh any discomfort.
This will depend on what you are wanting to work on. It is important to know that one acupuncture treatment will not adequately address your issues. Try to commit to 10 treatments before you make an opinion about its efficacy, although you should see results before that.