How does acupuncture work? Does acupuncture hurt? Why do I feel so relaxed after a treatment? You aren’t alone if you have asked your acupuncturist these questions. And there are many many ways to answer them.
“The scope of acupuncture is principally to regulate vital substances, which are derived from food accumulated in the stomach to form the nutrients and defensive substances that are circulated through their respective pathways in the body.”
This is a quote from the foundational acupuncture text call the Huangdi Neijing, or the Yellow Emperor’s Classic, written sometime between 475-225 BC. The text was a compendium of all the internal medicine knowledge at the time. As far back as 10,000 years ago, according to archeological data.
The earliest Chinese physicians discovered that inserting a needle into the skin creates an immediate sensation, and these sensations are reproducible. Over the millenia, these sensation pathways were mapped, and the points of strongest sensation were plotted. These are known as the acupuncture channels and acupuncture points.
Why Acupuncture Works
In the book The Dao of Chinese Medicine (2002), by Thomas Kendall, he goes into some very complicated and detailed explanations for why acupuncture works, citing many studies over the last 30-40 years. In very simple terms, modern research has shown that needling through the skin activates pain sensory nerves. Without this activation, acupuncture doesn’t work. This is because the sensory nerves send messages to the spinal cord. In turn, the spinal cord sends messages to the organs, muscles and tissues along the acupuncture channel pathway. This activates a whole healing cascade which maintains the balance and function of the body.
Needles stay in the body for about 30 minutes after insertion. During this important time, the body switches out of the sympathetic nervous system. This is the system that creates the fight or flight response when under stress. The parasympathetic nervous system then switches on. This system creates a deep feeling of relaxation, as it conserves energy for the internal healing processes to occur. This time is crucial to acupuncture’s effectiveness. It is important to let your body relax, and not allow the stimulation of a smartphone or conversation to detract from the treatment.
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