How Does Acupuncture Work? 5 Theories that Explain

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Hi Friend!

The number one question I get in my Acupuncture Clinic is “How Does Acupuncture Work?” I can understand why there are questions! While the practice of Acupuncture and Chinese medicine is becoming more common and well known, the idea of putting tiny needles in your body to alleviate pain can seem a bit counter intuitive.

Despite the fact that the majority of us have a fear of needles, acupuncture continues to grow in popularity as more research is proving that acupuncture decreases pain, speeds injury recovery, and decreases stress levels. The World Health Organization now recognizes over 40 conditions that are treated successfully with acupuncture. You can read Acupuncture: Review and Analysis of Reports on Controlled Clinical Trials where they list conditions treated well by acupuncture.

So how do needles that are thin as a hair alleviate pain? When my patients ask the question “How Does Acupuncture Work?” I use these five theories to explain.

1. The Gate Control Theory

This Theory is all about competition. What signal will your brain pay attention to? Pain signals must pass through nerve fibers as they move from the area of injury upward through the spinal cord into the brain. Like any pathway, there is limited space and these nerves can only handle a small number of nerve signals at one time. Acupuncture sends a competing signal to the brain, interrupting the pain signal from getting to the brain. No Signal to the brain = No Pain.

2. The Augmentation Theory

We have some great hormones and pain killing substances that our bodies naturally create. This theory speculates that acupuncture increases the production of specific hormones, prostaglandins, white blood cells, and overall anti-body levels that help our body heal and remain pain free. The fact that acupuncture can increase white blood cell count means that acupuncture can boost our immune system and treat disorders related to immune deficiencies. We can all benefit from a stronger immune system, increasing our bodies ability to fight off disease. Even if you are coming in for a pain related condition, increased immunity is a wonderful side effect of all acupuncture treatments.

3. The Endorphin Theory

Endorphins give us a positive mood boost or euphoria, which you may have experienced after a good workout or meditation session. Endorphins counter our stress response and are our bodies’ natural painkillers. Sounds great, right? Acupuncture is one way to get this natural high, and most patients report a positive mood and a sense of calm after an acupuncture session. The increased endorphins alleviate pain by interacting with opiate receptors in the body and mimicking the effects of drugs like morphine and codeine.

4. The Neurotransmitter Theory

This theory is all about brain chemistry. The balance of neurotransmitters such as serotonin and noradrenaline are imperative to our mental and emotional well-being and are influenced by acupuncture. Studies have shown increased serotonin levels after acupuncture treatment, indicating that acupuncture would be effective in stabilizing mood. This is why acupuncture is so successful with anxiety, depression and weight loss.

5. The Circulatory Theory

Acupuncture has been proven to constrict or dilate blood vessels during an acupuncture treatment. What does this mean? Acupuncture influences blood flow and circulation. As you can imagine, increased blood flow to an area that is compromised or injured, will naturally speed the healing process by bringing white blood cells and oxygen to the area of injury. As more research is done on the effects of acupuncture, the more evidence we have that it works to alleviate pain and heal injuries. If you have struggled with acute or chronic pain of any kind, you should definitely give acupuncture a try. In my clinical experience, patients get excellent results and tell me they wish they had tried acupuncture sooner.

Hi! I'm Angela

Acupuncturist, Herbalist, Integrative Wellness Consultant and Mood-Gut expert.

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