How does acupuncture work?
How can the seemingly mystical science of inserting small wires thinner than a strand of human hair into various body parts initiate a healing response? The truth is acupuncture does work quite well, and science has begun to unlock and catch up to some of its powerful biomechanics.
To demystify acupuncture, we have to begin with one of the core principles of Chinese medical theory; the existence and understanding of Qi (pronounced Chee). In classical Chinese philosophy, Qi is the force that makes up and binds the universe. In Chinese medicine, Qi can be summarized as the universal life force, but let us dissect this in some more detail. In the traditional Chinese medical model, our health or lack thereof is defined by how our Qi responds to our internal and external environment, for better or worse. All symptoms associated with poor health outcomes are categorized as healthy Qi deviations. The Chinese medical understanding of Qi” (氣) related to our physiology is that Qi is actually a manifestation of gases in the human body. In fact, the pictograph of Qi (氣) is a steaming pot of rice with vapours representing both the visual and intangible aspects of Qi.
Chinese medicine has long understood that it is gases in the body which play a direct role in most of our vital and biological functions. Gases are responsible for warming, energizing and providing communication at a cellular level throughout the body. Qi within the body’s internal terrain manifests itself as vapours and gases. Ancient Chinese physicians understood the fundamental role that gasses play in the warming, holding, and energizing of various forms of cellular communications within the body. Fundamentally, Qi functions to warm, protect, and nourish the body. Today we understand Qi as a direct manifestation and explanation of gasotransmitters’ role in our body.
Gasotransmitters are a family of gaseous molecules used to transmit chemical signals which induce specific physiological or biochemical changes in organisms’ tissues and cells of their bodies. They are small molecules of different gases such as nitric oxide (NO), hydrogen sulphide (H₂S) and carbon monoxide (CO) that pass through cell membranes and are responsible for transmitting information from neurons to cells.
So now we know, Acupuncturists are primarily concerned with influencing the body’s innate healing mechanisms by way of its internal gases to foster improved vitality. For years the predominant theory of how acupuncture worked was that our body was made up of different etheric internal channels similar to an energy circuit. And that when we experience pain, discomfort or chronic illness it would be a clear indication that there was a blockage in the internal flow of energy. This deviation of Qi could be rectified and restored through acupuncture. The therapist or physician would insert filiform needles to correct abnormalities in the Qi of the human body.
Today after over 70 years of research into why acupuncture is so effective, we have understood the many similarities and nuances between Chinese medicine and Western medicine. Central to how Acupuncture works is the preset day research on gasotransmitters. Nitric oxide (NO) is a molecular signalling molecule in our body. (NO) has a host of functions, including regulation of the cardiovascular system, influence upon learning and memory, facilitation of vasodilation, contribution to our immune response, and regulation of our nervous system. Nitric oxide has a regulatory effect on every process in the human body. Acupuncture points where needles are inserted have high concentrations of (NO), and stimulation of those points increases nitric oxide within the body. When this happens, it creates a cascade of events influencing our circulatory system by improving blood flow and releasing naturally occurring analgesic chemicals, thus creating an anti-inflammatory effect throughout the body.
Acupuncture involves the use of ultra-fine wires called filiform needles, which, when inserted into specific points and locations on the body in areas known to have defined concentrations of nerve pathways, cause direct stimulation of the nervous system. Needles are frequently left in the body for 20-40 minutes while one enters a state of deep relaxation to elicit a parasympathetic response. Acupuncture works by naturally producing our body’s opioid neuropeptides creating our body’s natural analgesics; it does this through the direct stimulation of the central nervous system making changes to the visceral organs and inducing relaxation of the muscle structures. Acupuncture modulates the parasympathetic nervous system by promoting rest, relaxation, improved digestion, and our tissues’ physical healing.
Acupuncture balances hormonal disorders by working directly with the endocrine system via the central nervous system. The use of acupuncture enhances the body’s innate healing capacity by normalizing physiological functions and optimizing positive health outcomes.
What can acupuncture do for me?
Acupuncture can do a lot. Acupuncture can be used for such a wide range of conditions that patients new to Chinese medicine may find it hard to believe. Acupuncture essentially “greases the wheels” of our body’s self-healing efforts by boosting our innate vitality. Acupuncture can help with:
- Pain Relief
- Pregnancy-Related Concerns
- Menstrual Disorders
- Mental and Emotional Health, Depression, Insomnia, Stress Relief
- Endocrine Disorders
- Digestive Concerns
- Beautification (Natural Face Lift)
- Symptoms Associated with Chemo and Radiation Therapy
- Wound healing
Acupuncture does have its limitations. Acupuncture is not magic it’s medicine. Acupuncture can not make the body heal an injury the body could never recover from in the first place. Acupuncture will usually give the body the extra power to get on top of the problem and speed up recovery. A fundamental question to ask yourself before seeking out an Acupuncturist for your care is to ask yourself, “when people get these conditions, do they usually bounce back from them?” And if they know they do, that strongly suggests that your body will also be able to tap into some of the healing benefits of receiving regular acupuncture. These are the types of issues acupuncture should be able to help in many cases. In addition to treating your main health concern, acupuncture has a host of positive side effects. So, while you may be treating your frozen shoulder and chronic constipation, your sleep may noticeably improve, and you may feel a lot less irritable.
When should you see an Acupuncturist?
Acupuncturists will ask you about your lifestyle, sleep patterns, and elimination patterns. We also use several traditional diagnostic techniques, such as tongue examination and the felt pulsation of your radial artery. These combined diagnostic techniques form what we call a pattern differentiation which is the key component to assessing a patient’s condition and treating them effectively. Chinese medicine is a complete holistic healthcare system rooted in thousands of years of knowledge. It is essential for a patient to manage expectations effectively. It is not uncommon for patients to come to see us after trying “everything” and wanting magical results in one or two treatments. Unfortunately, most times, that is impossible! Acupuncturists will always examine if a patient’s condition is in the chronic or acute development phase. A chronic disease like childhood Asthma may require prolonged treatments to affect change and promote a favourable outcome. At the same time, an acute condition like a twisted ankle will require fewer sessions to see substantial and long-lasting healing.
Typically an Acupuncturist will start with one course of treatment consisting of about (10-12 sessions) to gauge the effectiveness of a patient’s response based on the improvement of their overall symptoms. Acupuncture is like any other form of medicine in that it is dose-dependent and favourable outcomes require a treatment plan, consistency, and regularity. As we work with patients over time, we better expect how they respond to our treatment and adjust our approach accordingly. As the pace of improvement picks up, we know we are on the right track to ensuring positive health outcomes for our patients.
Our health determines our wealth and enjoyment of life. Acupuncture is a highly versatile and practical form of care for our modern lifestyle. Book a free 15-minute consult with Rian Scott (R.Ac) at OAK Physio & Wellness to learn more about what acupuncture can do for you.