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How Acupuncture Works

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?

Chronic Pain:

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.

Beyond needling:

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.

Rob Veater

Licensed Acupuncturist, BSc (Hons.)

Rob Veater Acupuncture: providing effective acupuncture services for Colne Engaine, Earls Colne, Pebmarsh, Halstead, Sudbury, Colchester and surrounding areas

Back in Balance

Two of the fundamental principles of Chinese Medicine are balance and harmony. In this system of medicine, the body is conceived of as a complex network, with each part reflecting the whole and connected to every other part via the neurovascular and fascial vessel systems that I have discussed previously. Beyond this, each person is also seen as a part of a wider network formed by the outside environment, a part of nature, receiving nourishment and support from the various external sources like food, water and the warmth of the sun, but also from personal relationships and social group interactions.

All of these interconnected networks exist in a state of dynamic balance, fluctuating according to our actions, emotions, activities and events that befall us. When disease or dysfunction occurs, it could be seen as a disruption affecting this state of balance leading to an imbalance. However, another way to look at it is that the state of dynamic balance has simply shifted to a new state that represents the body’s best attempt to cope with the various circumstances. Let’s take the case, for example, of an office worker, who has a particularly stressful job, with constant deadlines and performance markers to attain. This person might also work at a computer for large portions of the day, breathing shallowly and hunched over. They may also come back to a home life filled with family responsibilities, looking after the needs of young children etc. Over the past few months it may not come as a huge surprise that this person has developed very tight, painful shoulders and a stiff neck. It may be tempting for them to see their body as ‘letting them down’, and ‘going wrong’, but in fact, with all the stress that is going on and the poor posture the body is simply finding the best way to maintain balance and function given the demands placed upon it. Unfortunately the longer the body stays in this less desirable state of balance the more it becomes ingrained. Also, a vicious cycle can occur whereby an already poor posture is worsened in attempts to relieve the tension, and the chronic pain can lead to irritability which tends to make personal and work relationships suffer leading to yet more stress and tension…

So how can acupuncture help with this? Firstly, by placing needles in certain parts of the body, we can help to move the body into a different, more desirable state of balance, relieving the tension that has accumulated in one region by stimulating a complementary region. When this region has been correctly chosen, patients will usually know pretty quickly, as they will feel the pain and tension ease. As the tension eases, that person then has a chance to reverse the vicious cycle. Using insights into their condition that can be offered from a Chinese Medicine perspective, they can make changes to posture and perhaps engage in some simple breathing exercises to help reduce stress. These lifestyle changes combined with the acupuncture can quickly help to bring long-lasting relief from the condition and minimise the chance of recurrence.

Rob Veater Acupuncture: providing effective acupuncture services for Colne Engaine, Earls Colne, Pebmarsh, Halstead, Sudbury, Colchester and surrounding areas