How Does Acupuncture Work?  

Many people have learned about Acupuncture from an energy model with roots, not in ancient Chinese medical texts, but in Western misinterpretations of those texts.  Acupuncture's power has a scientific basis.  What follows is a scientific model for acupuncture's ability to relieve pain and to heal.  


How Acupuncture Works 


Chinese Medicine

-Four Aspects of a mind/body that need to be functioning well in order to be healthy

•Qi (Oxygen) delivery to the tissues

•Vascular System

•Organ System

•Nervous System


If there is an obstruction in the blood flow to a particular area of the body, that area of the body will be negatively affected, resulting  in disease or malfunction.

Any are of the body that is damaged due to trauma or an internal disorder will have difficulty recovering if there is a reduction in blood flow to that area.


#1 Etiology of Chinese Medicine: Blood Stasis

  -Blood is not circulating sufficiently to the affected area

  -Body loses its ability to heal itself because all the

  healing agents of the body are found in the blood


Acupuncture helps increase your vascular functioning!

  -Major symptoms will disappear


Scientific Explanation of Acupuncture


Pain Pathway

  -To feel pain, 2 nerves are involved, 1) Nociceptors and   2) Propriocepters


1.Sensory Pain Nerves (Nociceptors) – Tells the brain there is pain (“ouch”).

-2 Types

•A Delta Fibers: sharp, burning pains

•C Fibers: dull, throbbing pains

-Sends signals to L5  ---> Up the spine ---> Tract of Lissauer ---> Midbrain


2. Proprioceptive Nerve Fibers

   - Tells the brain the location of the pain:   where the "ouch" is at

   - Fires continuously at the affected area ---> Sends signals up the back of the spine --->   Midbrain


•Pain Pathway

  - Midbrain releases endorphins/enkephalins that  bind to pain receptors along the spine and the capillary beds where the pain exists in order to  reduce the pain


Patients with chronic pain

- Proprioceptive neural threshold is too low

       - Signal to midbrain is weak

•Patient cannot pinpoint the EXACT location of pain

•Midbrain does not release endorphins/enkephalins

•Minute tissue trauma activates blood coagulation system to produce bradykinin and plasmin

•Bradykinin triggers local pain sensory fibers and corresponding proprioceptive nerves

•Plasmin activates C3 triggering the immune complement system to sustain vasodilatory phase by histamine, leukotrienes, prostaglandins, and kinin protease which sustains needling response

•Inactivation phase breaks down histamine, releases cortisol, promotes tissue healing



In summary: Acupuncture creates a strong stimulation and “reboots” the proprioceptive nerve pathway


  - The sensation created by the needles jumps the neural  signal threshold and stimulates the brain to release   endorphins/enkephalins


    - After a few hours, the signal gets weak again


   - The next day (or the next treatment), we needle the patient and stimulate again


We keep needling and jumping the threshold until the body REMEMBERS and RE-ESTABLISHES the normal threshold to signal the brain 


What is an Acupuncture Point?


According to the ancient Chinese medical texts, the Xue/Mai (translated literally as blood/vessels), that are commonly called "acupuncture meridians" today, are simply the major longitudinal blood vessels of the body.  Many of the body's sensitive locations along the pathways of these longitudinal vessels (superficial locations of nerves, blood and lymphatic vessels, neuromuscular attachments or where vessels and associated nerves penetrate muscle fascia) are coincident with nodes  that are today called "acupuncture points.".  


Many people who have been influenced by esoteric Western interpretations of Chinese texts believe that these nodes or points lie along "energy" pathways or "meridians."  However, as one can see in the picture above, acupuncture nodes are not points along invisible lines of "energy," but small areas that are located above the deeper longitudinal vessels, and the more superficial fine vessels of the circulatory and lymphatic system that lie along nerve pathways.  















From Donald Kendall's The Dao of Chinese Medicine


Characteristics of an Acupuncture Point:  These points or nodes have interesting qualities that elucidate their special use for acupuncture.  Some correspond to motor point or Golgi tendon organs.  Relative to non node sites, acupuncture nodes or "points" also have a higher electrical conductance and a larger concentration of neural and fine vascular components, along with a greater distribution of mast cells.

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