Today we’d like to discuss one of the most important aspects of Chinese medicine: acupuncture! Most importantly how acupuncture works and what it works best for. If visual learning is more your speed we’ve attached a video made by one of our colleagues that has also mastered distal acupuncture from our teacher Robert Doane and brought it to Australia under the name advanced neurological acupuncture.
The first problem concerning acupuncture is an issue we discussed in a previous blog post. The mistranslation that has led to a misconception that acupuncture is a metaphysical energy medicine has led to poor communication of acupuncture to the western public and dismissal from medical professionals. The Chinese have always seen acupuncture as a physiological therapy that addresses static blood flow in the blood vessels. It’s quite confusing when googling or researching acupuncture and there is continual reference to energy traveling through invisible meridian lines. To this day there is still people continuing to reference this out of date mistranslation that is a complete misrepresentation of acupuncture and Chinese Medicine. The problem is if you do not know how acupuncture works you don’t know how best to utilize it, which means you cannot reproduce results or may injure a patient without experience needling.
So how does it work? When an acupuncture needle is inserted through the skin of the body two reactions take place. The tissue around the inserted needle will spring into effect, followed by a central nervous system reaction. Our skin is our barrier from the harms and pathogens of the outside world, a minute trauma like a needle prick produces a small version of what would happen in a major trauma like an impact or cut. The skin around an inserted needle immediately tries to stop any risk of infection and releases our first line of defense by Mast cells and degranulation. This is what causes redness, heat, and swelling after a trauma. A host of other reactions begin to take place that are our bodies damage control. Systemic blood circulation to the area is restricted to reduce possible infection from being carried back to the main organs. Over time the body will clean up damaged tissue and start a repair process or find the wound too compromising so will begin to generate scar tissue to wall off the damaged area from the healthy body. Acupuncture needles are so thin that the microtrauma they produce do not harm the body if inserted properly. So needle insertion anywhere in the body will generate some local stimulation to heal the site where a needle is inserted.
The real clinical mastery of acupuncture is understanding the second effect of needling. Our nerve fibers run below the skin to give us an awareness of where we are in the universe and how to feel our way through it. These are called proprioceptive nerve fibers, they along with our trauma response nerves called nociceptor fibers react to a needle passing through the skin and fire a nerve impulse along their pathway up the spine to the midbrain. When this impulse is strong enough the midbrain leaps into action releasing its own pain killers called enkephalins down the nervous pathway to shut off pain receptors. This is why acupuncture is so effective in treating pain.
Acupuncture is not just a pain jammer, however, like an opioid is. This is because acupuncture affects the blood vessels of the body, as written about by the Chinese millenia ago, so it has the ability to stimulate the body’s own healing mechanisms to address the root cause of the pain. Pain is the firing of nerves trying to alert the brain of dysfunction/trauma and to move to safety. The firing of these nerves can come from a pulled muscle, a herniated disc, trauma, tissue that is not getting adequate blood/oxygen supply, etc. When acupuncture needles stimulate the nervous system to release its own pain killers it does so by dilating blood vessels that service the nerves to deliver these hormones to the area. Overall this increases blood flow, so the body’s own healing mechanisms can move back into a damaged area to heal it.
Having centuries of Chinese clinical documents on utilizing acupuncture has given us the foundation of how best to utilize this treatment therapy. The ancient Chinese organized the body into longitudinal muscle and blood vessel distributions that are crudely interpreted on the lines we see on acupuncture models. The acupoints themselves may be the result of countless trial and error of seeing which spots along these longitudinal zones produce the best effect. Modern imaging reveals the most commonly used acupuncture points are found to be nodal sites dense with nerve and blood vessel fibers in order to carry the best stimulation from a needle.
At Garuda Health we are unique in understanding how acupuncture works as well as having thousands of clinic visits to produce results. Acupuncture is the best treatment modality for pain, chronic or acute from headaches to back pain to joint pain. We are unique in being able to address neuropathic pain which is the reason for most pain pathologies that are generally shrugged off as “arthritis” by medical professionals. Unlike medications acupuncture is safe, non-addictive, and corrective. We have also found it to be very helpful in circulatory issues, digestive complaints, allergies, and pregnancy care. Herbal medicine is generally best for internal medicine complaints, but acupuncture is wonderful compliment to any herbal plan.
For a more detailed understanding and specific chemical mechanisms of acupuncture Chapter 14 of the Dao of Chinese Medicine is the best resource I have found to explain acupuncture to the modern physiologist.