Science Of Acupuncture
Before receiving acupuncture, please read Informed Consent.
Biomedical acupuncture views the spine as centrally important. Assessment and treatment of the spine benefits the spine itself, as well as the organs and regions of the body associated with each spinal segment. I also carefully assess elsewhere on the body, finding local and distal acupoints on meridians connected with your specific chief complaint. I practice acupuncture as an integration of traditional Chinese medicine and modern biomedical and sports medicine concepts.
How does acupuncture work?
The body is made of many different kinds of tissue. Acupuncture stimulates increased communication, circulation and metabolism within the various tissues and levels of the body.
When I received my first acupuncture treatment, I felt a sheet of energy move deeper in my body than I ever had before. Acupuncture is known to stimulate movement along what’s called “meridians.” These coordinated movements optimize circulation of energy and fluids which prompt faster and better healing.
Acupuncture meridians are specialized energetic pathways of connective tissue shadowing and surrounding important vessels and structures connecting to the organs, spinal cord and brain. These pathways cross-communicate bioelectrically and travel through the whole course of the body.
Meridians continually strive towards wellbeing for the organism and protecting the vital organs. Acupuncture engages these intelligent meridians, prompting profound self-healing at the level of the central nervous system, in addition to local healing in the region of each needle.
Acupuncture is best used as preventive medicine by regularly toning the body’s systems and nipping dysfunction in the bud. Acupuncture is curative medicine in many cases, given enough time and where the conditions in an individual’s body are physiologically healable. Each person has unique “self-healing potential,” involving genetics, lifestyle, age and physiological condition.
What happens at an acupoint?
This image represents a remarkable way to think of an acupoint. We have layer upon layer of tissues in our body. Acupoints are typically natural depressions in the muscle felt during palpation.
Perhaps we can understand these depressions, by virtue of their shape, as speeding communication of energy from one layer of tissue to another. Because the morphology of the fascia dips in, these areas naturally funnel energy or what practitioners call “qi“. Many acupoints are located at junctions where a nerve runs along and penetrates into the deep fascia.
The fascia is a connective tissue covering which extends throughout our whole body and functions as an intelligent soft-structural lining. Amazingly, it functions as a unified fascial net in which stimulation in one part communicates forces and information along the whole system. “Acupoints” can be seen as areas of ‘easier access’ to pathways and regions of heightened fascial networking. Scientific research has measured and documented these points on the body to be specific areas of increased conductivity and decreased electrical resistance.
The acupuncture needle is stainless steel, sterile, disposable, micro-thin and flexible. It conducts energy, promoting circulation and metabolism. Acupuncture improves diverse conditions because it stimulates physiological self-healing.
During acupuncture, a depression in the muscle is palpated and a needle is gently inserted. The sensory nerves, which run along the fascia and branch off to innervate almost every square inch of our body, immediately sense the change in their environment. Because the sterile and disposable acupuncture needle is so fine, the sensation is usually not pain but a dull ache, pressure or heaviness in the muscle, a warmth, tingling, floating sensation, or a feeling of movement along the meridian.
At the acupoint, the needle actually stretches muscle fibers, triggering a reset response; and creates a “micro-lesion.” The local tissue response is healing and anti-inflammatory. Blood vessels dilate and flood the area with immune cells, ready to begin the repair process. The immune system activates healing factors in the immediate area as well as holistically through the central nervous system.
How does acupuncture stimulate holistic healing?
The benefits of acupuncture exceed local healing at the acupoint. Peripheral sensory nerves immediately communicate to the spinal cord and brain. Endorphins are released, which relieve pain and relax tissues, enhancing circulation and healing. Endorphins have value in the body beyond just feeling good. Research shows that for several days after acupuncture or massage, the positive chemical effects of endorphins continue in the bloodstream during which time your body is receiving the chemical signal to heal.
We do not heal well during stress. Mental and emotional stress, chronic pain and physical dysfunction create a continuous state of stress for the body. The sympathetic nervous system is over-activated, creating high blood levels of the stress hormone cortisol, used in “fight-or-flight” responses. During stress, the body delays parasympathetic activities like “rest-and-digest,” healing and repair.
As a unified, intelligent organism, the body enacts a holistic healing response with acupuncture therapy. With the call to self-healing in place, the parasympathetic nervous system activates healing activities and regulates organ function. The immune system is stimulated and reinforced, which protects the whole body, including the brain.
Why is the health of our muscles so important?
The proper flow of blood and fluids throughout the body is essential for good health. Any disruption of flow in this system affects the health of specific body tissues downstream.
Chronic muscle tension impairs blood flow. Muscles become hypoxic (low oxygen) and toxic (metabolic waste build-up.) The brain eventually adapts to perceiving chronic tension as “normal.” The brain centrally sets muscle tone too high and we can’t relax these muscles.
Imbalanced muscle tension unevenly pulls on tendons and joints and can gradually pull the entire body into misalignment. In Biomedical Acupuncture for Pain Management, An Integrative Approach, Yun-Tao Ma explains, “acupuncture needling relaxes the muscles, increases blood circulation, and reduces inflammation and swelling of the muscles, ligament, capsule, and bursae, which help to restore the normal function of… articulation. After the stresses of swelling and inflammation are removed, the degeneration process will slow down and partial or even full recovery of function can be expected, depending on the extent to which the causes of the pain are inherently healable.”
Acupuncture actually stretches muscle fibers, signals the brain, disrupts contraction patterns, relaxes muscle fibers and immediately improves oxygenated blood flow. The area shifts towards healing. The brain suddenly notices an imbalance in the area and centrally signals the area to normalize.
In summary, acupuncture therapy helps to improve the blood flow and natural health of our muscles, creating a better environment for postural health, the flow of meridians and the health of vital organs. Since the body is an intricate inter-connected system, pathology in one area affects the whole body, especially over time… therefore attending to any one bodily issue benefits overall health. Acupuncture benefits musculoskeletal health as well as deeper internal issues, because of the connections through connective tissue.
Acupuncture stimulates your body’s healing response, which enacts local and systemic self-regulation toward balance (homeostasis.) Activating your body’s self-healing capacity on a peripheral and central level is a major benefit of acupuncture.
The effectiveness of acupuncture depends on the severity of symptoms, physiologic conditions, an individual’s self-healing potential, and proper treatment methods. Early problems can respond quickly to acupuncture, while chronic problems usually take more treatments to change. Acupuncture is excellent preventive medicine. Give your body a try!