As revealed by modern studies, acupuncture stimulates one or more of the signaling systems of the body, which can increase the rate of the body’s natural healing response. The nervous system, which is the primary signaling system affected by acupuncture, transmits signals along the nerves that comprise it. Additionally, it emits various biochemicals that influence other cells of the body.
When the body is punctured by an acupuncture needle, a natural compound called adenosine is released into the surrounding tissues. Adenosine is a natural compound that is well known for its anti-inflammatory properties. These levels can be increased 24 times in comparison to levels before an acupuncture treatment. Even once the needles have been removed, the release of Adenosine continues within in the body. This is one of the many reasons why acupuncture is so effective at treating chronic and inflammatory pain syndromes.
There are 5 current theories on the mechanisms of acupuncture and how it effectively treats a variety of types of pain:
1. Neurotransmitter Theory: Acupuncture affects higher brain areas, stimulating the secretion of beta-endorphins and enkephalins in the brain and spinal cord. The release of neurotransmitters influences the immune system and the antinociceptive system.
2. Autonomic Nervous System Theory: Acupuncture stimulates the release of norepinephrine, acetylcholine and several types of opioids, affecting changes in their turnover rate, normalizing the autonomic nervous system, and reducing pain.
3. Gate Control Theory: Acupuncture activates non-nociceptive receptors that inhibit the transmission of nociceptive signals in the dorsal horn, “gating out” painful stimuli.
4. Vascular-interstitial Theory: Acupuncture effects the electrical system of the body by creating or enhancing closed-circuit transport in tissues. This facilitates healing by allowing the transfer of material and electrical energy between normal and injured tissues.
5. Blood Chemistry Theory: Acupuncture affects the blood concentrations of triglycerides, cholesterol, and phospholipids, suggesting that acupuncture can both raise and diminish peripheral blood components, thereby regulating the body toward homeostasis.
Modern Research and Acupuncture Care:
Acupuncture & Shoulder Pain – Acupuncture is effective in the treatment of shoulder periarthritis. Of the 210 subjects studied, 158 were cured, 40 improved and 12 showed no significant improvement. J. Traditional Chinese Medicine, 2003 Sept.;23(3):201-02
Acupuncture & Migraines – Researchers concluded that acupuncture can significantly reduce migraines better than medication alone. Subjects who received traditional acupuncture showed lasting improvement in migraines when compared to participants who received mock acupuncture plus Rizatriptan. J. Headache, 2008 Mar.
Acupuncture & Carpal Tunnel Syndrome (CTS) – A randomized, controlled study compared the efficacy of acupuncture with steroid treatment in patients with mild to moderate CTS. Researchers concluded that acupuncture is a safe and effective treatment option for patients who have CTS, but experience side effects to oral steroids or those who opt out of surgery. Clinical J. of Pain, 2009 May;25 (4):327-33.
Acupuncture & Osteoarthritis (OA) – A randomized, controlled study showed that acupuncture can provide improvement in function and pain relief as an adjunctive therapy for OA when compared to sham acupuncture. Berman, BM., et al., Effectiveness of Acupuncture as Adjunctive Therapy in Osteoarthritis of the Knee: a randomized, controlled trial. Annals of Internal Medicine, Dec.21,2004;141(12)901-910.
Acupuncture & Fibromyalgia – A study conducted showed that acupuncture, when added to traditional fibromyalgia treatments, reduces pain and improves the quality of life for up to three months following treatment. J. Rehab. Med., 2008 Jul.;40(7):582-88.