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  • Dr. Mark Freund

The Theory Behind Acupuncture

theory behind acupuncture

While traditional Chinese medicine has many uses for acupuncture, it is most commonly used to treat pain. While many alternative remedies are slowly but surely making their way into the mainstream, acupuncture is still leaving people in some states skeptical. This phenomenon is partly due to linguistics and the lack of scientific research on the effects of acupuncture.

Acupuncture for Pain Relief

Acupuncture involves inserting thin needles under the patient's skin at various points. The needles are twisted by the acupuncturist to obtain additional therapeutic benefits. Acupuncture has been shown to be effective in treating pain, nausea, and vomiting associated with chemotherapy. Other applications, however, when scientifically tested, have had more mixed results. Scientists are working to explain the mechanisms by which yoga, meditation, and various dietary interventions can affect body cells. Acupuncture has various effects on the immune system. It affects the human body in mysterious ways. Scientists all over the world are working tirelessly to come up with a clear explanation so that they can provide a system with which acupuncture works.

Theories on Acupuncture

acupuncture needle on skin

Studies have shown that acupuncture effectively triggers pain relief, protects the body from infections and regulates various physiological functions. It has been shown that while acupuncture is most commonly used as a measure to relieve symptoms such as pain, it can also change the way diseases arise and provide relief, but it is difficult to know whether acupuncture can work in all directions.

Acupuncture Blocks Pain Signals to the Brain

One of the main ideas behind pain therapy is that acupuncture stands as a hurdle in the way of sending pain signals to the brain. It was first outlined by Ronald Melzack and Patrick Wall in the 1960s. This theory suggests that pain is transmitted from small nerve fibers under the skin to the spinal cord and brain. When a painful stimulus begins, the activity of the small nerve fibers outweighs the larger ones and triggers inhibitions. There is also a large fiber that normally sends an inhibitory signal to the smaller pain fiber, which essentially forms a gate and prevents the pain signal from being triggered. This explains how acupuncture works, as the practice can reduce the activity of the small nerve fibers and thus reduce pain.

Endorphin Release Acts like Morphine

Theoretically, the needle is positioned to stimulate the larger nerve fibers, while the smaller, painful fibers are inhibited. What helps to relieve pain is that inhibition calms the pain. Another possibility is that certain hormones are released in the body that contributes to happiness. These hormones are called endorphins.

Scientists believe that these hormones are able to behave like morphine in the body that ultimately reaches the brain, making it easier for acupuncture to relieve pain.

Other theories, however, explain well why acupuncture has been shown to work well against nausea and vomiting associated with chemotherapy. Some studies have tracked levels of these molecules in the blood and have shown that acupuncture is associated with high beta-endorphin levels, with patients reporting a reduction in their pain levels. Injecting morphine or the drug naloxone reduces the effect of acupuncture.

The Positive Effects on the Stress Response Systems

acupuncture meridian lines

Acupuncture has a positive effect on the body's stress response system, also known as the hypothalamus, pituitary, and adrenal glands (HPA), which may be why acupuncture patients report lower stress levels and less anxiety, at least during short-term treatment.

The Nerve Reflexes Theory

In the 1950s, a theory of nerve reflexes was proposed, which suggests that the periphery of the body's skin is connected to internal organs by the so-called viscerocutaneous reflex. Stimulation of this periphery with an acupuncture needle alters blood flow patterns from the stomach to the abdomen, which could explain the effects of nausea and vomiting.

The Physiological Phenomenon of Placebo Effects

What researchers now know about the placebo effect is that it can influence the mind. The reaction is robust and detectable as a physiological phenomenon. The mere presence of human touch may have much to do with the healing power of acupuncture. Some people respond better to the placebo effect than others. Acupuncture works under certain conditions and is apparent when people are treated with a placebo and not with acupuncture. There is evidence that this effect occurs and is amplified in acupuncture, especially in placebo-sensitive individuals. This is said to be due to therapeutic touch and can reduce pain and inflammation as well as stress and anxiety.

The Act of Acupuncture itself is Partly the Reason for its Effects

The things we know make up a large part of our perception of pain. Just as a mother must reassure a child through her physical and emotional presence alone, a well-intentioned touch, even if not physical, can do much to alleviate pain. A very important part of the effect of acupuncture is the rituals that are included in it, including the pressure to calm the practitioner and the patient's expectations.

acupuncture treatment for pain relief

They have an amazing effect on the alleviation of anxiety and pain. It is plausible that emotions modulate pain pathways, but acupuncture goes back 3,000 years. We know it works – we just don't know why. Hopefully, more researchers who ask the right questions and develop new and clever techniques to answer them will help clarify the mechanisms and unify theories.

The History of Acupuncture

Acupuncture is a treatment that dates back to around 100 BC in China and is based on the principle of qi (pronounced "chi"), which is considered a life force and a way of flowing. Several studies have not scientifically proven such principles, but acupuncture has been widely used in the United States and other countries for centuries. A bronze statue of an acupuncture point was depicted in the 15th century and is still used today. It was used not only for teaching and exam purposes but also complemented and supported the use of acupuncture to treat a wide range of diseases such as tuberculosis, cholera, and malaria. Acupuncture developed over the next few centuries and gradually became one of the standard therapies used in China.

history of acupuncture

The 14th to the 16th centuries saw the rise of the Ming Dynasty. It was around this time that the Great Compendium of Acupuncture and Moxibustion was first published, which took the first steps towards modern practice and tradition based on the principles of acupuncture. The book describes 365 points that represent channels in which acupuncture needles can be inserted to alter the flow of qi. From the 17th century onwards, interest in this tradition waned, and acupuncture was considered irrational and interwoven with superstition. The Emperor's decree of 1822 excluded acupuncture from the Imperial Medical Institute, and knowledge of the practice remained restricted to the rural healers and scholars.

With the rise of Western medicine in the 20th century, acupuncture practice fell further into disrepute. In 1949, the Communist government revived traditional forms of medicine, including acupuncture, and the practice was introduced in several hospitals. In 1950, an acupuncture research institute was established in China, but acupuncture was banned in all public hospitals and medical schools, as well as in private clinics. The practice eventually spread to several other countries, notably the US and the UK, as well as Australia, New Zealand, Korea, and Japan.

The Effectiveness of Acupuncture

effects of acupuncture
  • Acupuncture is an effective treatment for a wide range of conditions in the treatment of chronic pain. These practices include pain management, pain relief and pain control, as well as a host of other conditions such as depression and anxiety.

  • Acupuncture has also been shown to be effective in treating gout, compared to standard treatment with drugs such as allopurinol.

  • Acupuncture is also beneficial in the treatment of rheumatoid arthritis and has even been shown to be effective compared to standard treatments.

  • Chronic facial pain, including skull malformations of muscular origin, can also be treated with acupuncture.

  • Acupuncture has been effective in the treatment of multiple sclerosis (MS) and other conditions such as osteoarthritis and is recommended for both gout and arthritis.

  • In conditions where acupuncture is indicated, it can function well, even if the individual is not sufficiently mobilized to reach their full potential.

  • The effectiveness of acupuncture in pain attacks has already been demonstrated in clinical studies.

  • Compared to a placebo or dummy treatment, acupuncture is an effective treatment for chronic pain. In chronic pain, the effect of acupuncture treatment on pain relief and pain management in various patients that are suffering from acute pain can also be comparable to morphine.

It is also said that there is a certain degree of danger that lies in the improper use of therapy, and therefore acupuncture itself rarely makes the condition worse. For example, in patients with high blood pressure, acupuncture can lower or even raise blood pressure, which in some cases leads to a reduction, but not in others.

acupuncture on arm

Acupuncture is well-known for treating chronic and acute pain, and it has a reputation for working when other treatments have not. It has been shown to successfully treat conditions like morning sickness and other difficulties of pregnancy, carpal tunnel, circulatory problems, and other conditions. When seeking this treatment, always choose an experienced acupuncture provider who can make you feel safe by engaging in sterile procedures, someone you trust. Find the right physician at Natural Care Chiropractic today and give acupuncture a chance to treat your pain or illness.

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