Betty comes to my office for help. She is experiencing severe shoulder pain from playing tennis. The pain is deep, dull and achy. Betty is frustrated since the pain is effecting her tennis game. Even with pain relievers, she’s not improving. With several treatments and Chinese herbs, her pain lessens until one day Betty has no pain. Betty ask me “how does acupuncture work?”

Like many of my clients, acupuncture is a mysterious world that works wonders and the burning question gets asked, “how does acupuncture work?”. Well, here’s a shorten discussion on the mechanics of acupuncture.

Acupuncture does have real effects on the human body, which are being studied with high-tech tools. Neuroimaging shows acupuncture to calm pain registering parts of the brain and activate parts other parts involved in rest and relaxation. Doppler ultrasound shows that acupuncture increases blood flow in the treated areas. Thermal imaging shows acupuncture can make inflammation subside.

Many acupuncture points correspond to muscle trigger and motor points. Several channels track major arteries and nerves, such as people who have a heart attack and experience the pain radiating up across the chest and down the left arm. The heart channel follows the same path. Gallbladder pain will radiate to the right upper shoulder, just where the gallbladder channel goes.
Early studies found acupuncture works by stimulating the release of endorphins, the body’s natural feel-good chemicals, much like vigorous exercise does. New research found acupuncture stimulates blood flow and tissue repair at the needle sites. Plus, changing nerve signals to the brain that regulate pain and adjusts the autonomic nervous system to shift heartbeat, respiration and digestion.

Ultrasound studies found acupuncture needles when inserted into the body and rotated – wraps connective tissue around the needle like spaghetti around a fork. This action stretches cells in the connective tissue much like massage and yoga do, and may send signals throughout the body.

Meanwhile, new neuroimaging studies have shown that acupuncture affects a network of systems in the brain, including decreasing activity in the limbic system, the emotional part of the brain, and activating it in the parts of the brain that typically light up when the brain is at rest.

Other studies indicate clients with carpal tunnel syndrome have heightened activity in parts of the brain that regulate sensation and fear. After acupuncture treatments, their brain patterns are similar to healthy subjects. Acupuncture also increased the number of receptors for pain-reducing neurotransmitters, bringing patients even more relief.

Yes, acupuncture is still mostly a mystery. More and more people are finding the mystery of acupuncture to provide successful treatment for various pain conditions.

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