Acupuncture has long been used for the relief of pain all over the body, from acute strains and sprains to long-term, chronic conditions such as osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis. Mounting evidence for its effectiveness has even led to its integration with Western medical care, such as managing pain after a dental surgery or labour with acupuncture. But what makes it so effective?
Triggers the release of natural painkillers
Essentially, acupuncture works by stimulating the peripheral nerves located under the skin, which send a signal through the spinal cord and to the brain, which is where the magic happens. One of the effects from acupuncture is the release of natural opioid peptides in the central nervous system – which promote pain relief and deep sleep. One study even found a correlation between the intensity of electroacupuncture and the specific opioids released1Han, J. “Acupuncture and Endorphins“, 2008., and that by using a combination of two frequencies we can achieve the release of four types of these natural painkillers.
Relieves inflammation and promotes healing
Where there is pain, there is always inflammation; regardless of the pain being a result of a recent sports injury or being caused by an autoimmune condition such as rheumatoid arthritis. Acupuncture has been found to influence cytokines – proteins secreted by the immune system, which dictate how cells in the body interact. By reducing the levels of inflammation-inducing cytokines and increasing the levels of anti-inflammatory types, acupuncture can effectively fight inflammation and speed up the healing process2Zijlstra, F. et al. “Anti-inflammatory actions of acupuncture“, 2003.
Stimulates blood flow
Better blood flow means increased supply of oxygen and nourishment for the muscles, tendons, bones and ligaments, which leads to reduced persistence of pain and lower chance of it developing again. The insertion of needles has been linked to increased generation of nitric oxide around the areas of insertion, leading to increased local circulation3Masahiko, T. et al. “Acupuncture Enhances Generation of Nitric Oxide and Increases Local Circulation“, 2007.
Chinese medicine view of pain
“If there is free flow, there is no pain;
If there is no free flow, there is pain.“A classic Chinese saying
This is how Chinese medicine views the origin of any pain – a disruption in the flow of vital energy. This may happen either by a decreased power of the body to produce and circulate it, or by an obstruction in the channels in which it flows. If the body is too weak to produce enough qi, this may be due to a variety of causes such as genetic factors, overworking, or insufficient nutrition. As far as obstructions go, they can be physical but also emotional – long-standing bottling up and lack of expression of emotions may just as well result in or exacerbate pain. Hence, when treating pain with Chinese medicine we not only treat its symptoms, but the root causes of it too.