How does Acupuncture work?2017-12-28T11:30:24+00:00

Acupuncture

Acupuncture is the practice of inserting fine needles into the skin to promote health and well-being.  It is a branch of Chinese medicine, which is a complete system of healthcare that has successfully treated many common medical conditions for thousands of years.
Contrary to popular belief in the west, acupuncture has nothing to do with mysterious energy flowing through invisible lines called meridians.  It’s based on the same physiological principles as western medicine.
Acupuncture works by increasing blood flow.  Everything we need to heal is found in the blood: oxygen from air that we breathe, nutrients from food that we eat, hormones, pain-killers, anti-inflammatories, and immune substances produced by the body all circulate in the blood.  By simply increasing blood flow to diseased or painful areas, acupuncture can overcome many common problems.

What is an Acupuncture Point?

An acupuncture point is simply an area of the skin with a high concentration of nerves and blood vessels.  By stimulating these points with a needle, an acupuncturist is able to increase blood flow and send signals to the brain (via the nerves) that reduce pain and inflammation.

What Conditions Does Acupuncture Treat?

Since acupuncture works by stimulating the body’s natural healing mechanisms, it can treat a wide variety of health problems.  Unlike western medicine, which has a doctor for each part of the body and a different drug for each symptom, Chinese medicine views the body as an integrated whole.  By determining the underlying cause of a health problem, acupuncturists can treat many different symptoms at the same time.
For example, imagine a typical patient.  We’ll call her Mary.  Mary has elbow pain, irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), depression, insomnia and high blood pressure.  If Mary goes to her doctor with these complaints, she’ll probably end up on several different medications.  She might be prescribed painkillers for her elbow, muscle relaxants for her IBS, an antidepressant for her depression, a sleeping pill for her insomnia, and a beta-blocker for her high blood pressure.  She might have to see a gastroenterologist and a psychiatrist in addition to her primary care doctor.
In Chinese medicine, on the other hand, we don’t treat each symptom separately.  Acupuncture has tremendous “non-specific” effects.  This means if we treat Mary’s elbow pain, her elbow will get better but her IBS, depression, insomnia, and high blood pressure will also get better.  Why?  Because all of the systems of the body are connected.  As many as eight or ten different symptoms often boil down to two or three underlying causes.  When these underlying causes are addressed, all of the symptoms improve.  And Mary only has to see one health care practitioner (her acupuncturist), rather than several different doctors.

Among the conditions most frequently treated by acupuncture are:

AddictionsADHDAllergiesAnxietyArthritisAsthma
Autoimmune DiseaseBack PainBlood PressureCarpal TunnelCirculation (poor)Colds & Flus
ColitisConstipationChronic CoughDepressionDiabetesDiarrhea
DiverticulitisDizzinessEmphysemaFatigueFibromyalgiaGallbladder Issues
GasHay FeverHeadacheHeart DiseaseHemorrhoidsHormone Imbalance
IndigestionInfertilityInjuries & TraumaInsomniaJoint PainKidney Problems
Liver ProblemsNervousnessPain (all types)PMSProstate ProblemsRheumatoid Arthritis
SciaticaShinglesSinus ProblemsSkin ProblemsSore ThroatTendonitis
Thyroid ConditionsUlcersUrinary ProblemsWeight GainWhiplashVertigo
Acupuncture treatment has three primary goals:
1. Reduce the effects of stress.

2. Reduce inflammation.
3. Restore internal balance (homeostasis).
Reducing stress is perhaps the most important systemic effect of acupuncture.  Stress affects every system of the body and is a significant cause of every health problem we suffer from.  Although it may not be possible to reduce the amount of stress we experience, acupuncture can help reduce its destructive effects.  Acupuncture releases a hormone called oxytocin which helps calm the nervous system and relax the body.
Inflammation is a natural, healthy response in the body that helps us heal from injuries and wounds.  However, when it gets out of control inflammation wreaks havoc on our muscles, joints, cardiovascular system, digestive tract, internal organs and even our brain.  Most people know that inflammation is behind conditions like arthritis and fibromyalgia.  But inflammation is also a major cause of heart disease, diabetes and even obesity.
Like stress, inflammation can be difficult to avoid in modern life.  Poor diet, chemicals in food, water and air, lack of physical activity and chronic stress all cause inflammation.  Fortunately, studies have shown acupuncture reduces inflammation and its harmful effects.
Homeostasis is the scientific term for “internal balance”.  When the body is in balance, natural feedback mechanisms help keep the immune system at peak efficiency.  And when the immune system is strong, the body can cope effectively with most diseases.  Acupuncture restores homeostasis by promoting proper blood flow and regulating the nervous, endocrine and immune systems.
Scientists are still learning about how acupuncture relieves pain.  Although the mechanisms involved are complex, ultimately acupuncture is a remarkably simple technique.  It depends entirely on one thing: the stimulation of nerves.
Acupuncture points have an abundant supply of nerves.  When the nerves supplying these points are cut or blocked, there is no acupuncture effect.
Acupuncture relieves pain in three ways:
  1. Acupuncture releases natural painkillers.  Inserting a needle sends a signal through the nervous system to the brain, where chemicals such as endorphins and enkephalin are released.  Some of these substances are 10-200 times more powerful than morphine!
  2. Acupuncture reduces both the intensity and perception of chronic pain.  Genetically the body is not designed to be in chronic pain.  It will do everything it can to get us out of pain.  Acupuncture “reminds” the body how it should be functioning, and jump-starts its natural pain relieving mechanisms.
  3. Acupuncture relaxes shortened muscles.  This in turn releases pressure on joint structures and nerves, and promotes blood flow.
People who’ve received injections with hypodermic needles are sometimes afraid acupuncture will be similarly painful.  This is not the case.  Hypodermic needles are stiff, hollow and thick, enabling them to force liquid into the patient’s flesh.  Acupuncture needles are extremely fine and flexible.  They are similar in diameter to a piece of thread or a strand of hair.
When the needles are inserted, most patients may feel either a brief tingling sensation or no sensation at all.  First-time patients are often surprised by how painless and comfortable the needle insertion is.
Acupuncture stimulates the release of endorphins, morphine-like substances that create a calming and pleasurable state.  Patients often fall asleep or become deeply relaxed during treatment.  Pain and anxiety dissolve leaving patients feeling calm yet energized.  Most patients look forward to the deep rest they get during acupuncture treatments.
We practice a style of Acupuncture in our clinic using only points below the elbows and knees and on the ears and scalp.  This is the oldest, and we believe most effective style of Acupuncture.  There is no need for patients to disrobe.
Most patients find they are more comfortable receiving acupuncture in loose-fitting clothing that is easily rolled up to the elbows and knees.
Once the acupuncture needles have been inserted, patients continue to rest comfortably for between 30 and 45 minutes.  The length of treatment depends to some degree on the patient’s condition and specific needs.
Each patient’s condition and response to acupuncture treatment is unique.  Therefore, it’s not possible to give an estimate of how many treatments a patient will need before doing a thorough examination and an initial series of treatments to determine their specific rate of response.
Frequency of treatment also depends upon the patient’s condition.  That said, acupuncture works on momentum.  It’s often necessary to receive treatment two to three times a week in the initial stages while the old pattern of dysfunction is being replaced with a new pattern of optimal function.  As treatment progresses, the frequency is reduced to once a week or even once every two weeks.
Typically, serious, long-standing conditions will require both a higher frequency and a longer course of treatment than mild, acute conditions with a shorter history.
Acupuncture is exceptionally safe.  The government requires acupuncturists to use pre-sterilized, disposable needles that have been manufactured, packaged and shipped in sterilized containers.  Needles are never re-used.  Acupuncturists must pass a rigorous examination on safety and sterilization procedures before receiving their license.
Acupuncture is relatively free of side effects, especially when compared to conventional medicine.  A recent study in the British Medical Journal concluded that “The risk of serious events occurring in association with acupuncture is very low, below that of many common medical treatments.”  In fact, another study found that those receiving placebo (sugar pills) experienced more side effects than those receiving acupuncture!