How Does Acupuncture Relieve Pain?

Learn more about the science of acupuncture and how it works to provide immediate and long-term pain relief.

As I see more and more patients over the course of my career, I am a direct witness to immediate pain relief, with rapid reduction and even elimination of pain occurring within seconds of needle insertion.

How is this possible? While all the mechanisms of the clinical results of acupuncture are still unknown, more and more information about the science of acupuncture is coming to light.

Here is some information on what we know so far.

Acupuncture improves the signals from the body to the brain and back.

The experience of pain and discomfort in an injured or ill patient involves the activity of two types of nerve fibers: Sensory (nociceptive) and Proprioceptive nerve tissue.

Sensory nerve fibers tell the brain that there is pain - "ouch". There are two types - A Delta fibers (sharp pain) and - C Fibers (dull, achy pain).

These nerves transmit signals to the spinal cord and up to the mid-brain. Proprioceptive nerve fibers tell the brain the location of the pain, or where the "ouch" is coming from.

The brain fires continuously at the painful area while the location signal travels to the spine and again up to the mid-brain. The mid-brain seems to be where the magic happens. This is where the endorphins/enkephalins are released in the nervous system and bind to specific "receptors" along the nerve pathway or damaged tissue area. The result is - no pain!

In chronic pain conditions, the patient may have difficulty pinpointing the exact location of their discomfort. This is because the proprioceptive nerve threshold is too low, the signal to the mid-brain is weak, so endorphins/enkephalins are not being released in sufficient quantity to deliver enough relief to the patient.

Acupuncture creates an immediate signal that reestablishes the normal threshold to induce endorphin release from the brain.

What does this all mean? Acupuncture relieves pain! But how?

Acupuncture works to establish healthy physiological function by creating and reestablishing healthy neurological signals from the body to the brain, and from the brain back to the body.

If your body has lost the ability to function normally and the result is a problem with pain or discomfort, you may need acupuncture therapy to "reboot" your nervous system and get your body back in normal working order.

Acupuncture also has a positive impact on surrounding tissues.

When a person receives acupuncture, the needling techniques reach nerve fibers as well as "superficial nodes" or acu-points and "ah-shi" or non-acupuncture pathway tender points.

Inserting a needle into the skin and superficial tissue layers of the body produces a subtle "micro trauma" to the local tissue. After various substances are released into the surrounding area, the body initiates its own tissue repair and recovery processes. These activities will not only repair the effects of the acupuncture stimulation, but also the surrounding tissue area of initial concern.

This becomes particularly relevant when there has been direct tissue trauma as part of the patient's medical history that has directly or indirectly led to impaired blood flow in the affected tissue.

Reduced or impeded blood circulation to the problem area is a common feature of long-standing, chronic pain conditions. Over time, repeated local needling can alter the structure of a target tissue area by stimulating the mechanisms involved in tissue repair. While the precise mechanisms of local needling are varied and quite complex, the documented effects include vasodilation ("opening" of blood vessels), local nerve excitation, local immunomodulation (attraction of immune cells to the local area), local anti coagulation (prevention of blood clotting locally), stimulation of tissue repair and inactivation of local inflammatory response.

For more information on the scientific explanation of acupuncture, please read "The Dao of Chinese Medicine" authored by Deke Kendall.

What does this all mean for you?

When you experience consistent and persistent structural pain, it is often due to damage to the micro circulation of blood in the local tissue area of concern. This is often caused by direct trauma or loss of healthy repair mechanisms in the site where an injury to the tissue has occurred. In addition to impaired blood flow, there can also be either an overactive or under-active immune activity.

With overactive immune activity, an increase in release of inflammatory substances such as histamines, prostaglandins, and cortisol from the local tissue sustains pain and swelling.

With under-active immune function, the local tissues have either prematurely ceased the release of inflammatory chemical mediators or there was inadequate tissue activation in the first place, where an insufficient supply of vasodilating substances necessary for tissue repair were released.

If your body has lost the ability to function normally and the result is a problem with pain or discomfort, you may need acupuncture therapy to stimulate local activity including blood flow, immune modulation, and healthy neurological function.

To see if acupuncture can be used to successfully control or reduce your pain, either on its own or in combination with other approaches to whole body wellness, contact us today at +1-(970) 382-0321 or schedule an initial screening.

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