Acupuncture is amazing. In our culture, it is best known for relieving pain. We treat patients every day for all kinds of pain. Though pain relief is just a small part of what acupuncture can do, it is very effective; and not at just reducing pain, but eliminating it altogether. Even patients with chronic pain find relief under our care. But how does it work?
Chinese medicine theorizes that pain, distress, or disease is caused by either a blockage or an imbalance of Qi. Conditions that can cause this include trauma, stress, emotions, diet, and general lifestyle. Acupuncture and Chinese herbs restore the proper flow of Qi, returning the body to its natural state of balance allowing the body to heal itself quickly and completely. Acupuncture points lie on meridians that run throughout the body. These points are what access and effect different physiological functions in the body. Treatment is based on symptoms and the causes of those symptoms.
People often ask how Western medicine would describe how acupuncture treats pain. There are five main theories posed by the Western medical community:
The “Augmentation” Theory: Acupuncture raises levels of triglycerides, specific hormones, prostaglandins, white blood counts, gamma globulins, opsonins, and overall anti-body levels. This is why acupuncture can treat disorders relating to immune deficiencies. Example: Pain that is a result of emotional stress, hormone imbalance or autoimmune diseases is easily treated with acupuncture.
The “Endorphin” Theory: Acupuncture stimulates the secretions of endorphins in the body (specifically enkephalins). Endorphins are our body’s natural pain killers. They are 1000 times stronger than morphine. This is how acupuncture can provide immediate pain reduction. Example: Tan style acupuncture, using imaging, provide pain relief within seconds of the needle being placed.
The “Neurotransmitter” Theory: Certain neurotransmitter levels (such as serotonin and noradrenaline) are affected by acupuncture. This is why acupuncture is so successful with depression and mood disorders. This is also the reason people feel so amazing after a treatment. Example: Weight loss treatments consider low serotonin levels that may be causing sugar cravings.
The “Circulatory” Theory: Acupuncture has the effect of constricting or dilating blood vessels. This may be caused by the body’s release of vasodilaters (such as histamine), in response to acupuncture. Example: using acupuncture to treat edema and chronic injuries by releasing a fresh supply of RBCs and WBCs to areas of scar tissue build up and blockage.
The “Gate Control” Theory: Highly researched among western scientists. According to this theory, pain signals must pass through a number of high-traffic “gates” as they move from the area of injury upward through the spinal cord into the brain. Like a road or highway, these nerves can handle only a limited number of nerve signals at one time. Acupuncture generates competing stimulus and interrupts the neurotransmission of the pain signals, preventing them from reaching the brain. The result: we never “experience the pain”. Example: the use of acupuncture anesthesia.
Each of these theories examines acupuncture from a different perspective, and help to illustrate why acupuncture is effective at treating many different types of pain, whether acute or chronic.