Given that there seem to be a lot of preconceptions Chinese Medicine, I thought I would write about how acupuncture works and, hopefully, dispel some myths. Firstly, acupuncture works according to a proven, scientific basis. It is a physiological medicine that works to increase blood flow in the body thereby initiating a natural healing response. You don’t need to ‘believe’ in it for it to work, nor does it require subscribing to notions of energy or mysticism with which it is frequently misconstrued.
So how can needles stuck in the body possibly help it?
Around 90 percent of chronic pain conditions are thought to be neuropathic, which means that there is an impairment in how the sensory nerves are communicating with the brain. This may start with a trauma to the nerve via an injury, bad posture or overuse, but rather than resolve naturally a vicious cycle starts in which the nerve that tells the body it is in pain (the nociceptor) keeps firing, while the nerve that tells the brain precisely where the problem is (the proprioceptor) sends a signal that is too weak for the brain to pinpoint the exact source of the problem. Without a strong proprioceptive nerve signal the brain can’t send natural painkilling chemicals to the area, and initiate a healing response. Instead, it reduces blood flow to the general area and tightens the muscles, making it very difficult to heal (as this would require good blood flow) and reduces range of motion.
Acupuncture jumpstarts the proprioceptive nerve, providing a signal to the brain telling it exactly where the problem is, it will then release natural painkilling chemicals, restore healthy blood flow to the area and relax the surrounding muscles. As a consequence, pain relief occurs very quickly and, if you have a nagging pain when you are being treated, you will feel it rapidly diminish or disappear once the needles are inserted. In order to make this happen, you will feel some sensation when the needles are inserted, usually a dull ache or tingling, which will quickly dissipate. After the first session, pain relief should last between a few hours to a few days, and then may begin to return. This is why repeat sessions are necessary to jumpstart the proprioceptive nerve until it restores normal communication with the brain and the problem fully resolves. Over the course of this process, the pain relief will last for longer and longer, so less frequent sessions will be needed. So rather than mask a chronic pain condition with painkillers, acupuncture provides a way of allowing a chronic condition to be naturally overcome.
Stress and internal issues:
Apart from treating pain, acupuncture is great for reducing stress and increasing wellbeing. Again, this is because of blood flow. Chronic stress or habitual negative thoughts have been proven to create a variety of undesirable biochemical effects in the body. Chronic worrying about the future can flood the body with adrenaline and the stress hormone cortisol, leading to a feeling of edginess, always waiting for something to go wrong and poor sleep. Equally, stress and frustration can restrict internal musculature reducing blood supply to the liver, so that stress hormones are no longer being removed from the blood efficiently, causing a general feeling of irritability and reactivity.
As with chronic pain, acupuncture can also target the organs, relaxing the surrounding musculature and increasing blood flow. By doing this it promotes the natural, efficient removal from the bloodstream of the biochemicals associated with stress. Through the same process, it can also help to regulate other internal organ processes such as digestion and menstruation.
Fortunately, this doesn’t require needling around the organs. The nervous system is intricately interrelated so that a needle placed in a certain point on a limb can have a corresponding effect on an internal organ and the surrounding musculature.
In addition to acupuncture, Chinese Medicine can offer insights into self-management of health and wellbeing, through dietary advice, simple breathing exercises and other stress management techniques. Where necessary, other techniques such a Chinese Massage (Tuina) and heating therapies (Moxibustion) can also be employed. I also like to discuss the role that our thinking plays in shaping our perspective and our reality. A deep understanding of this can lead to a profound increase in wellbeing and avoid falling back into the same mental habits that caused much of the biochemical imbalance in the body in the first place (see www.threeprinciplesmovies.com/ and http://innatewellbeing.co.uk/ for more info)
The net result is that pain can be relieved and stress reduced, leaving you feeling calmer, more energised and more resilient. So, if that sounds appealing please come in for an appointment or have a chat with me to find out what acupuncture can do for you.
Licensed Acupuncturist, BSc (Hons.)