The Science Behind Modern Acupuncture

How does an Acupuncture point work?

At the Acupuncture Point where the needle is inserted:

While it is not completely understood by modern science yet, there has been a lot of research to figure acupuncture out. In general we can say that acupuncture will effect the circulation of blood with all of its contents into and out of an area of the body.  Acupuncture can also cause tight muscles to relax and improperly functioning muscles to work correctly again among other things.  But most of what science has found out about acupuncture points involves the nervous system.  Research at the Shang Hai Medical college found that 323 of 324 acupuncture points studied are associated with peripheral nerves and 93.8% of them are associated with superficial cutaneous nerves.

Typically an acupuncture point is stimulated creating a local nerve reaction which cause the release of vasodilators, white blood cells, red blood cells, glutamate, serotonin, PGE, and substance P.  All of these substances can create a healing response.  There is also a neuromuscular reaction in the case of muscular tension and pain.  The needle and the proper manipulation of it can effect motor efferent nerves that cause a muscle fasciculation - a twitch in the muscle - which results in a release of tension and decrease in muscle pain.  Research has also shown that the metal needle’s ferromagnetic properties have the ability to alter the electromagnetic milieu around a nerve and cause nerve depolarization which effects nerve function, pain, or both.

In the Nervous System:

The signal in the local nerves created by the needle travels up to the spinal cord potentially releasing more neuropeptides at that junction.  Then the signal travels up the spinal cord to the brain engaging our endogenous opioid circuit, hypothalamus and more.  The end result is decreased pain and healing in the body.

This whole process is accomplished by properly diagnosing a health issue, picking proper acupuncture points, and using proper stimulation methods for the that point to create the desired effect.

Acupuncture will also positively effect the different types of nerve fibers and which neurochemicals are released in the body locally and in the brain including beta-endorphins, enkephalins, dymorphins, and orphanin to help healing and kill pain.  You cannot underestimate the power of acupuncture to kill pain.  A recent study showed that, in two different groups, acupuncture was able to be 92% effective in killing pain vs 78% in the group using morphine!

What am I supposed to feel while getting acupuncture?  

Typically it is good to have some sensation on several of the needles that you receive.  The sensation is important and was recognized as far back as 2500 years ago when early practitioners wrote that without these sensations treatments would be less effective.  Modern neuroscience has shown that these sensations indicate that there is an association to certain neural fibers that are stimulated.  Knowing the type of sensation you are feeling Doctors are able to be certain of which nerve fibers are being treated. See the table below for a description of the nerves and associated sensations.

Now it doesn’t mean that the acupuncture needs to be painful to work.  We just need to get a little sensation so that the proper nerve is being effected.  If the proper nerve is being effected then we know that all of those processes mentioned earlier can work.

What is my treatment frequency based on?

Acupuncture has a cumulative effect.  The research on acupuncture shows that the neuropeptides released will last for a few days.  If these neuropeptides are released in close intervals, 3-5 days apart for example, the body will release more and more of them each time.  The result is that the body has a greater healing response.  The next thing that the frequency is based on is a concept called neuroplasticity.  The more we apply an input to our nervous system the more  it has a chance to “rewire” itself.  It is a little like practicing an activity or sport.  “Practice makes perfect.”

You can get results!

A properly trained acupuncturists knows how to select which points you need and how to correctly needle them so you can get a healing response in your body.  Our goal is to mix the time-proven practices, theories, and techniques with all that modern science has taught us about the body for optimal results.