Submitted by Dr. Marina 11/11/15
HOW ACUPUNCTURE REALLY WORKS!
Have you ever wondered how acupuncture actually works? I’m sure you’ve heard about Qi (pronounced Chi), right? What you probably understand about Qi is that it’s energy that gets moved by the needles and it makes you feel wonderful and amazing. What if I told you there is a lot more to it? What if I told you that Qi is actually not even energy, it’s oxygen!
So how does acupuncture work, and what REALLY happens in the body when you stick that first needle in?
Well…to get to that, we have to start at the beginning. We have to start with understanding the two types of pathways that communicate pain. One is the Nociceptor pathway, and the other is the Proprioceptor pathway. Simply put, the Nociceptor pathway communicates the type of pain being felt, while the Proprioceptor pathway tells your brain where in your body the pain is. Within the Nociceptor pathway, the A-Delta fibers send the sensation of sharp, burning pain, and the C-fibers send the sensation of dull, throbbing pain.
The two different kinds of pain that we experience in the body are acute pain and chronic pain. Acute pain is designed as a protective mechanism for the body, and tells us that there is danger, or that something is wrong and that we should stop using that body part to avoid further injury. Opioids are the body’s own natural painkillers, and are designed to block all pain receptor sites on the capillary beds at the site of pain. These are released shortly after the tissue damage occurs and result in the injury becoming less painful over time. Our body is really quite amazing: it is meant to take the pain away once it no longer serves a purpose! When the Opioids fail to be released however, you end up with a sensation of persistent pain even though the injury no longer exists. Welcome to Chronic pain.
So what causes this breakdown in communication that results in pain becoming chronic? If a person has pain and our body has a mechanism to stop that pain, why is it that we still have pain?
We don’t really know…
One of the accepted theories is that the activation of the Proprioceptive pathway releases a chemical that helps the opioids find the site of pain and diffuse it. Well, if the signal is strong enough, the brain will release sufficient opioids and the pain starts to dissipate, but if the signal is not strong enough, the brain won’t do much about it, the pain can’t be pinpointed, and the pain will persist.
Now this next part is one of the coolest parts for me….
If the pain continues, the brain decides that there is something seriously wrong with that part of the body, even if the pain can’t be located. The brain assumes that the body part has been poisoned, and it shuts down blood flow to that area. It also inhibits the motor nerves going into the muscles of that body part.
The brain makes the justification that it is better to sacrifice one body part than to let the poison go through the whole vascular system and kill you.
Finally we come to the role of acupuncture! Every time you place a needle into either an acupuncture point, or really anywhere else in the body for that matter, you burst mast cells. Now mast cells are very, very important in the inflammation process. When you burst them, out come histamine and prostaglandins, hormones that produce leukotrienes as well as chemotackic factors. Okay, I get that these are a whole lot of words that most of you won’t understand (or won’t care to remember), but trust me when I tell you that they all very powerful anti-inflammatory agents. The chemotackic factors call for all white blood cells in the area to come and decrease the inflammation, much like you would call the fire department to put at a fire. At the same time, because you have placed a foreign object into the body, the area floods with red blood cells, which bring oxygen and nutrients to that area. This massive influx of oxygen stimulates an amazing healing response within the tissue. With acupuncture, sometimes you may feel a sharp sensation and sometimes a dull sensation; those are the A-Delta fibers or the C-fibers being activated. They force the release of opioids, the brain pushes blood (and oxygen) into the damaged area, and the pain stops…..the AREA IS HEALED!!!
So why does the pain sometimes come back?
Well, that signal that we talked about earlier sometimes needs more than one prick (pun intended!). Depending on how long you have been suffering from the chronic pain, we will need to keep needling until the body REMEMBERS and RE-ESTABLISHES the normal signaling to and from the brain.
Think of it this way, you would never see your physical therapist only once and expect to be completely healed. With acupuncture we sometimes do get “miracles,” but often times the body needs more than one treatment to reset!
I hope that helped with understanding acupuncture on a slightly different level. Even though I related the above explanation to pain, the same principle applies to other ailments with regards to resetting the body. Take away inflammation in your digestion and it will work better, your sleep will be improved, energy will be increased, focus and concentration will be boosted, and much more.
In fact, according to the World Health Organization (WHO), acupuncture is effective for treating 28 conditions, while evidence indicates it may have an effective, therapeutic value for many more. Come check it out for yourself!