Acupuncture is one of the oldest and most commonly used medical procedures in the world. It is a key component of traditional Chinese medicine that originated in China over 5,000 years ago. The intent of acupuncture is to alleviate pain and suffering by promoting health. The method by which this is accomplished, though it may seem strange and mysterious to many, has withstood the test of time and continues to be validated today.
Acupuncture uses fine, slender needles to stimulate areas along specific channels of the body. There are over 500 specific points, or “acupoints”, located on our body. Each acupuncture point elicits a different response to our nervous system, endocrine system, hormonal system, and vascular system. In this manner, it can re-program any malfunctioning organ or signalling system. There are currently modern approaches and variations such as Laser Acupuncture.
With such a wide variety of conditions treated, such as arthritis, carpal tunnel syndrome, and sciatica, several processes have been proposed to explain the effects of acupuncture. Acupuncture points are known to stimulate the central nervous system (the brain and spinal cord) to release chemicals into the muscles, spinal cord, and brain. These chemicals either change the experience of pain or release other chemicals and hormones, which influence the body’s self-regulating systems. The biochemical changes stimulate the body’s natural healing abilities and promote physical and emotional well-being. There are three main mechanisms:
Conduction of electromagnetic signals: scientists have found evidence that acupuncture points are strategic conductors of electromagnetic signals. Stimulating points along these pathways through acupuncture enables electromagnetic signals to be relayed at a greater rate than under normal conditions. These signals may start the flow of pain-killing biochemicals, such as endorphins, and of immune system cells to specific sites in the body that are injured or vulnerable to disease.
Activation of opioid systems: Research has found that several types of opioids may be released into the central nervous system during acupuncture treatment, thereby reducing pain.
Changes in brain chemistry, sensation, and involuntary body functions: Studies have shown that acupuncture may alter brain chemistry by changing the release of neurotransmitters and neurohormones. Acupuncture also has been documented to affect the parts of the central nervous system related to sensation and involuntary body functions, such as immune reactions and processes whereby a person’s blood pressure, blood flow, and body temperature are regulated.
Increasingly, acupuncture is complementing conventional therapies. For example, doctors may combine acupuncture and drugs to control surgery-related pain in their patients. By providing both acupuncture and certain conventional anesthetic drugs, some doctors have found it possible to achieve a state of complete pain relief for some patients. They also have found that using acupuncture lowers the need for conventional pain-killing drugs and thus reduces the risk of side effects for patients who take the drugs.
Find out more about this amazing medicine by checking out some answers to commonly asked questions in our Acupuncture FAQ.