What is Acupuncture?
Acupuncture is a type of medicine that has been practiced for over 3000 years. It is one of the safest and most natural types of medicine available today. Acupuncturists use thin, sterile disposable needles inserted into specific areas of the body to help rebalance and regulate the internal environment, re-establish homeostasis, and thus treat the disease.
According to traditional theories, acupuncture influences the vital force, or Qi, of the body. Western science has proven that acupuncture can regulate the body through many mechanisms, including stimulating the endocrine, nervous, and immune systems. (For a detailed discussion of the theories that explain the effectiveness of acupuncture see the “How does acupuncture work?” video below). In the United States, acupuncture is usually associated with pain management, as it has been proven to be highly effective at treating all types of acute and chronic pain. However, acupuncture can also be used to treat a wide range of internal conditions including digestive disorders, insomnia, gynecological disorders, infertility, fatigue, as well as psychological disorders such as depression and anxiety. As the practice of acupuncture has evolved in the U.S., it has been proven in an increasing body of scientific studies to be exceptionally safe when performed by licensed acupuncturists and statistically effective.
What can Acupuncture help with?
Since acupuncture works by stimulating the body’s own healing mechanisms, it is effective for a wide range of conditions. As acupuncture is part of a complete medical system, there is almost always an approach an acupuncturist can take to help manage a health problem or even better, to help you remain pain and illness free. Even if you are in great health by Western medicine standards, acupuncture can still improve your quality of life by enhancing your mood, boosting energy, and helping you sleep better. Acupuncture can help manage the daily stresses of modern life; ease aches and pains; reduce joint and muscle inflammation; improve digestion; fend off colds, flu, and allergies; regulate hormonal cycles; help you cope with chronic health conditions and recover more quickly from injuries and surgery.
Below is a list of some of the conditions acupuncture can help with:
Acute & chronic musculoskeletal disorders
Neurological disorders – headache, migraine, Bell’s palsy, post-stroke symptoms, trigeminal neuralgia, carpal tunnel syndrome, and neuropathy
Gastrointestinal disorders – gastritis, constipation/diarrhea, indigestion, IBS (irritable
bowel syndrome), hemorrhoids
Respiratory disorders – common cold, sinusitis, seasonal allergies, bronchitis, asthma, rhinitis
Gynecological disorders – PMS (premenstrual syndrome), PCOS (polycystic ovary syndrome), irregular menstruation, fertility enhancement, menopause symptoms
Cardiovascular disorders – circulatory problems; hypertension, palpitations, poor circulation
Emotional disorders – stress, anxiety, insomnia, depression
Cancer treatment support
Preventive medicine & wellness maintenance
How does Acupuncture work?
There have been many attempts to pinpoint “The One Reason” acupuncture works, but in reality, modern science is discovering that there is not one factor, but more likely multiple simultaneous reactions involving different systems, including the central nervous system, that allows acupuncture to have such strong and lasting effects.
From a biomedical perspective: acupuncture causes many physiological changes in the body including vasodilation (increased blood flow), stimulation of hormones and neurotransmitters, and stimulation of the parasympathetic nervous system (allowing the patient to achieve very deep relaxation). Acupuncture also invokes an analgesic effect by altering the body’s own natural pain-relieving opiate system. Our bodies produce a wide range of natural pain-relieving substances, anti-inflammatory chemicals, hormones, and immune system enhancers all without the need for outside drugs. In fact, some of our most effective drugs are synthetic copies of the chemicals our body makes naturally. Acupuncture helps to tap into and stimulate those existing resources to more quickly help your body to balance itself to resolve disease and discomfort.
Modern research has demonstrated that most acupuncture points are located at neurovascular nodes where there is a high concentration of sensory fibers, fine blood vessels, fine lymphatic vessels, and mast cells. These nodes are distributed along longitudinal pathways of the body (in many instances closely aligned to the Meridian pathways understood in TCM) where the collateral blood vessels supply the capillaries and fine vessels. The skin in these areas is slightly thinner with a lower electrical resistance. They also contain more sensory nerves and have more fine vessels with sequestered mast cells than non-nodes. Ancient Chinese physicians recognized that these nodes on the surface of the body could reflect disease conditions in the internal organs and that these same nodes could be stimulated to relieve pain and treat internal organ problems.
More recent research is revealing the vital communicative role played by the connective tissues (includes the fascia, ligaments, tendons, and even blood) in our bodies. Connective tissue is one of the most integral components of the human machine. One could draw a line between any two points of the body via a path of connective tissue. This network is so extensive and ubiquitous that if we were to lose every organ, muscle, bone, nerve, and blood vessel in our bodies, we would still maintain the same shape: our “connective-tissue body.” Recent research is revealing that many systems of the body may be affected by mechanical changes to these connective tissues. The type of mechanical stimulus provided by acupuncture is believed to convert into chemical reactions and activity and may be responsible for a number of physiological processes in the body. It is estimated that there is an 80% correspondence between the site of acupuncture points and the location of intermuscular or intramuscular connective tissue. Broadly speaking, acupuncture has 3 primary effects: It relieves pain; it reduces inflammation; it restores homeostasis. Homeostasis refers to the body’s ability to regulate its environment and maintain internal balance. All diseases involve a disturbance of homeostasis, and nearly all diseases involve some degree of pain and inflammation. In fact, research over the last several decades suggests that many serious conditions like heart disease previously thought to have other causes are in fact primarily caused by chronic inflammation. If we understand that most diseases are characterized by pain, inflammation and disturbance of homeostasis, we begin to understand why acupuncture can be effective for so many conditions.
If you look at a sketch of the acupuncture channel system put side by side to the images of what we recognize as our nervous and circulatory system in modern science you can see that the pathways and connections are very similar. The Chinese medical understanding of this meridian or channel system is that Qi or in Western terms oxygen and blood flow through these channels in the body and relate to all regions and organs of the body. Each of the acupuncture meridians has a direction of flow and they flow into one another and are connected to our physical organs, nervous and circulatory system, and brain. So it can be reasoned from both an Eastern and Western medical perspective that by the acupuncture channels, we are stimulating the nervous and circulatory system and therefore it can have a positive effect through the body via this amazing network of nerves and vessels. Acupuncture has been shown clinically to have an impact on all of the bodies systems – Endocrine (Hormone), Nervous, Circulatory, Digestive, and Immune system.
How Does Acupuncture Work - Scientific Explanation (Made by my colleague Dr. Irzyk in Florida)
A video explaining how acupuncture works from a Traditional Chinese Medicine viewpoint
Video on how acupuncture affects the brain with evidence using MRI findings
BBC Documentary explaining the science behind acupuncture