The goal of acupuncture is to stimulate the inherent self-healing mechanisms through the nervous system. In doing this, the practitioner and the patient collaborate in healing the injury and relieving the pain.
Acupuncture points are located in skin and muscle. These points are in close proximity to peripheral nerves (the nerves in our body that aren’t part of the brain and spinal cord). The pathway of “pain-sensing” neurons course through peripheral nerves sending pain signals to the brain. The proximity of acupuncture points to these neurons is partly why it is effective in treating pain.
By stimulating these points with hair thin, single use, disposable needles, we send signals to the self-regulating area of the brain to trigger a physiological, homeostatic, self-regulating response that can potentially reduce inflammation and improve circulation of blood that transports vital nutrients and oxygen to the injured area and consequently promote healing.
The March 2014 issue of Nature Medicine released the results of a study led by Dr. Luis Ulloa of Rutgers University in New Brunswick, New Jersey. Ulloa and his team made a discovery shedding light to the specific anatomical changes in the adrenal glands of mice that occur when electroacupuncture is performed. Electroacupuncture stimulating a peripheral nerve such as the sciatic nerve controls systemic inflammation by activating the vagus nerve leading to the production of dopamine in the adrenal glands. Dopamine suppresses inflammatory cytokine production and therefore inhibits systemic inflammation.
Furthermore, numerous studies have shown that acupuncture signals the brain to churn out natural pain-relieving molecules called endorphins. Moreover, the May 2010 issue of Nature Neuroscience released a study that provides information about yet another physical mechanism through which acupuncture reduces pain in the body. This study informs us of acupuncture’s potential to promote the release of adenosine, another natural painkiller that becomes active in the skin and in the deeper tissues affected by fine needle stimulation. As pain is relieved and stress is reduced, the guarding response is reduced and healing is optimized.
The efficacy of acupuncture depends on the level of severity and complexity of the injury and on the self-healing potential of the individual receiving treatment. Therefore, acupuncture effectiveness varies from person to person and case to case.
Nevertheless, it is a significant treatment option that can prove to be safe and effective.
Article contributed by Edsel Tan, L.Ac., Dipl.O.M.