Pain Relief

Below I have listed some of the most understood mechanisms behind acupuncture’s effect on pain and its ability to help the body heal dysfunction and pain.

  • Acupuncture promotes blood flow. This is significant because everything the body needs to heal is in the blood, including oxygen, nutrients we absorb from food, immune substances, hormones, analgesics (painkillers) and anti-inflammatories. Restoring proper blood flow is vital to promoting and maintaining health. Certain parts of the body are naturally very poorly supplied with blood vessels and these are often the area of injury under repetitive stress activities.  Ligaments, tendons, and vertebral discs heal very slowly due to the lack of circulation and acupuncture can increase the transport of healing cells into these areas. Blood flow decreases as we age and can be impacted by trauma, injuries and certain diseases so any increase in those areas can be beneficial. Acupuncture has been shown to increase blood flow and vasodilation in several regions of the body.
  • Acupuncture stimulates the body’s built-in healing mechanisms. When we lift weights at the gym we create small amounts of trauma in our muscles which heal over the following days.  This healing process creates improved strength and function in the muscle following the stress of the workout. In a similar way, acupuncture creates “micro traumas” that stimulate the body’s ability to spontaneously heal injuries to the tissue through nervous, immune and endocrine system activation. As the body heals the micro traumas induced by acupuncture, it also heals any surrounding tissue damage left over from old injuries.
  • Acupuncture releases natural painkillers. Inserting a needle sends a signal through the nervous system to the brain, where chemicals such as endorphins, norepinephrine and enkephalin are released. Some of these substances are 10-200 times more potent than morphine and can deliver effective relief of pain without the side effects of depression, fatigue, constipation, and lack of focus.
  • Acupuncture reduces both the intensity and perception of chronic pain. According to Chen Shaozong, “For 95% of all points in the range of 1.0 cm around a point, there exist nerve trunks or rather large nerve branches.” 1.   This abundance of nerve pathways around point locations facilitates a process called “descending control normalization”, which involves the serotonergic nervous system. 2  Pain is felt in the brain not in the body and through acupuncture’s effect on the brains perception of pain we can control the intensity of the pain perception.
  • Acupuncture relaxes shortened muscles. Muscles can become chronically shortened through Repetitive Stress Injuries at the computer or on the job site.  This tension in one aspect of the body cause pulling on another part of the body creating pain and structural imbalance in the shoulders and hips. Acupuncture can be focused on this spasms which in turn releases pressure on joint structures and nerves, and promotes blood flow.
  • Acupuncture reduces stress. This is perhaps the most important systemic effect of acupuncture. Recent research suggests that acupuncture stimulates the release of oxytocin, a hormone and signaling substance that regulates the parasympathetic nervous system. You’ve probably heard of the “fight-or-flight” response that is governed by the sympathetic nervous system. The parasympathetic nervous system has been called the “rest-and-digest” or “calm-and-connect” system, and in many ways is the opposite of the sympathetic system. Recent research    has implicated impaired parasympathetic function in a wide range of autoimmune diseases, including arthritis, lupus, rheumatoid arthritis and inflammatory bowel disease.

 

  1. Shaozong, C. Modern acupuncture theory and its clinical application. (Chapter 5 The Morphologic Relationship between Points and Nerves). International Journal of Clinical Acupuncture. 2001;121(2):149-158
  2. Dung HC. Anatomical features contributing to the formation of acupuncture points. American Journal of Acupuncture. 1984;12:139-143