Is Acupuncture Effective & How Does it Work Exactly?
[Be warned since this is my Blog I will be adding in whatever I choose to. Some will be scientific based, while some will be ranting and anecdotal. I will have opinions and "so called" facts mixed together in a hodgepodge of messy goodness. It should be fun.]
Is Acupuncture Effective?
I will start by saying that I am clearly the WRONG person to ask this question of. Yeah...slightly biased here considering I'm a licensed acupuncturist; and if I didn't think that it worked I would be a complete dumbass and just about the biggest hypocrite who ever lived. A funny thing though, is that people ask me this question all the time. I'm often left with nothing to say, mostly out of shock that they would even ask it; and just once I want to answer, "Of course it doesn't, I went to school and buried myself in student loan debt because I just wanted to make easy money", just to see what kind of reaction I would get. But, for you readers and in the spirit of a challenge let me answer this and then I will try to ellaborate and explain it in layman's terms. The good news is, rest assured, Yes it does work! Acupuncture has been used for thousands of years; there are countless case study and evidence based research studies available backing it up and validating it (just to keep us logical Western minded folks happy).
How Does it Work? What happens in a treatment?
These questions are a little better to pose to someone like me, and I will give an answer that betrays my 5+ years of TCM education. Forgive me my collegues and TCM friends, don't come at me with your pitch forks because unfortunately, this is going to be a huge over simplification! However, I think it's important to speak the language of the people I treat so that it can be understood by the general western public. Side note: Dear Johny Public, just know that there is a lot more to the medicine than this and that your local TCM practitioner went to medical school for countless years because it wasn't this easy. This is one woman's take on it and I am by no means the messiah of Eastern medicine here.
Basically, acupuncture and all other TCM modalities like gua sha and cupping work by one simple mechanism, they cause micro-damage to the body........WHAT?!? Are you nuts? Your doing what to me? Causing the what to who?!? Before you stop reading let me explain. Yeah, I know it sounds a little crazy, but it's also true and not really as bad as it sounds.
This "micro-damage" is metaphorically comparable to the process ones body goes through while working out at the gym lifting weights or running. When we work out we're breaking down our muscle tissue so that our bodies are stimulated to rebuild something stronger and more efficient. Due to rigorous conditioning like this, athletes are able to train their bodies to maintain better health and longevity. Acupuncture, cupping, and other Eastern modalities have the same goal, but with less work on the part of the patient. Because we (the practitioner) are trained to diagnose each patient individually, each patient recieves treatments specific to their constitution, strengths and deficiencies are noticed and addressed during each treatment. Our goal is to help balance that patient therefore allowing them to function at an optimal level. Ultimately getting the patient's body back to it's highest level of functioning all on it's own. Sounds simple right, that's because it kind of is. Now let's discuss this "micro-damage" a little more in detail.
Micro-damage to re-balance homeostasis
First off, the micro-damage that is caused is extremely minor and precise (diagnosed even) and usually in an area of injury that already has scarring and internal damage that needs "re-activating" (for lack of a better word). Secondly, it's purpose is to create a chain of events within the body that triggers and stimulates the bodies own 1.) anti-inflammatory system (The Axon Reflex Flare, vasodilation, circulation), 2.) immune system (mast cells, histamine, heparin, growth factor), 3.) the bodies natural pain killers ( pH neutralization, and increased aerobic metabolism, increased flexibility and mobility, endorphins) and 4.) other regulatory hormones. Thirdly, all these mechanisms work together to repair the "micro-damage" while also working to fix and repair the imbalance or injury that was the initial chief complaint.
This whole process brings more oxygen, nutrients and blood, to the area in question; while allowing metabolic waste (such as lactic acid and other debris) to be drained and circulated out of the starving tissue and for the injury to be regenerated. Yay! Now here are some more western fun facts; Hilton's Law, states that the nerve trunks that innervate a joint also innervate the muscles that move that joint and the skin superficial to it. This law helps us to theorize that it works both ways, from joints to skin and skin to joints. Since these structures share the same neural pathways it only makes sense that they innervate and feed eachother.
According to this biological process when we use acupuncture, cupping, massage or other modalities on the surface of the body we are indirectly effecting the structures underneath (even the organs). We are also able to make those conclusions based on dermatome supply areas (spinal nerve root). Which will also help explain why we can stick a needle in one place and get a positive result in another (that plus Reciprocal Inhibition & Fetal develpoment, but that's a blog for another day). Western medicine shows us that the human body is designed to keep a homeostatic state (same state), so when it experiences something like, chronic pain, or dis-ease for long periods of time it stops trying to "repair" itself. It becomes de-sensitized and accepts this dis-eased state as being "normal".
Breaking the pattern.
Pain is not a normal state for the body to be in, neither are any of the other diseases we suffer with, but our systems can and do become overloaded and backed up. Acupuncture acts to stimulate the whole body system to be "reset", by introducing something "foreign" into the system; thereby forcing the body to adjust ie.) back to a normal healthy state. It acts as a reminder by sending signals to the brain which in turn re-focuses attention to healing. It stops the body from becoming complacent with abnormal or unhealthy internal imbalances. Acupuncturists use many metaphors to help patients understand this process. Think of your body system as the freeway system in LA. The more cars there are on the freeway the more congested (stopped up) the freeway system gets, and the more accidents occur. Acupuncture works by pin pointing the worst trouble areas (debris, injury, weakness) and clearing them away, building things up, by inserting more lanes (drainage) and by making better connections etc. Simply put, acupuncture acts as a catalyst for positive change.
Sometimes several treatments or series of treatments are necessary to keep this "adjustment". Every case is different because every patient is different. Results vary depending on the chronicity of the chief complaint, state of health and compliance level of each patient. The good news is that it helps everyone to some degree, most people get significant results. TCM is an amazing and truly remarkable medicine that assists our bodies ability to work for itself. This allows a patient to maintain stronger, better health for longer periods. By just engaging in regular treatments one can keep their body in peak condition - almost like an athlete. While keeping medication and surgey a very last resort to be used only in dire situations. The human body is infinitely capable of miraculous healing; it can and does take care of itself with just a little coaxing.
So if you're curious and want to give Acupuncture a try I highly recommend that you do so. Take advantage of optimal health and well-being. It's a very pleasant and wonderful experience, knowing just how strong and capable your own body can be. Please find a licensed physician near you and enjoy Essential Health with your Vital Inner Fire everyday!