Acupuncture is probably the most well known and most frequently utilized treatment method of what is commonly referred to as Chinese or East Asian Medicine. This system of medicine originated in China, and has been continually practiced and studied for several thousand years. Also included in this comprehensive system of medicine are Moxibustion and Cupping therapies, Nutrition and Herbal medicine, as well as internal-cultivation, exercise practices such as Tai Chi and Qi Gong. The methods that are incorporated into your treatment depend on your condition and your individual needs as a patient.
Acupuncture itself is a very old form of what may be termed ‘physical’ medicine. It is a hands-on approach of interacting and providing input to the body through the stimulation of specific, anatomical areas called acupuncture points. These acupuncture points have multiple ‘functional’ effects within the human body – simply put, they tell the body to do something e.g. relieve the inflammation causing the pain, lower the blood pressure, increase digestive movement, etc. The use of specially designed filiform (hair-thin, flexible, solid, sterile stainless steel) needles is the safest and most common method of achieving this goal. A very gentle technique of needle insertion is adjusted to accommodate the comfort of the patient. Yet, I do want you to feel something! And, the treatment itself often has a very sedating and relaxing effect as you rest quietly for 30 minutes or so.
One of the very unique features of Acupuncture as a therapy is that its effects are both specific and general – specific to your needs, and, general, in the positive side effects you will receive from treatment such as: more energy, less stress, improved sleep and digestion, overall improved health and a sense of well-being. Acupuncture has always held close the idea of health cultivation while treating disease; this is interesting because the Future of Medicine is going to be ‘how do we keep people well?’. It is one of the reasons why Western Medicine and Acupuncture work very well together – Acupuncture largely focuses on the prevention of health problems through regulating body functions and engaging the self-healing mechanisms of the body while Western Medicine is more often aligned with the treatment of disease and health problems once they become clinically established in the body.
How does acupuncture work?
This is what I call ‘the million-dollar-question,’ a loaded question if there ever was one. This is what every patient wants to know and what every scientific study is attempting to discover. And, while there is an answer, I believe a better and more approachable question to ask yourself is this: ‘Will Acupuncture Work for Me?’ That’s why you’re here after all, right?
The simplified answer to how acupuncture works is that it acts as a ‘counter-irritant’ to the body. It engages the self-healing, homeostatic systems that regulate every aspect of our internal environment. In short, it stimulates the body to do what it was designed to do, to help itself. If this explanation is satisfactory to you, great! If you require more information, please continue reading.
Despite its extensive history as a medical system and the literally tens of thousands of studies that have been conducted on acupuncture since the 1950’s, the question of how acupuncture works remains an elusive one. This fact does not sit well with some Western medical practitioners and researchers who have a very strong interest in The Why, in the cause and the effect, in the action and reaction, in how acupuncture treatment fits into their model of medicine of how the body works. And, herein, lies a fundamental problem – a belief that somehow one model of medicine has a unique handle on the truth, a belief that the body only operates ‘materially’ in a chemical, physical, and very tangible way that can be measured and controlled. We must accept that there are still many inherent mysteries of how the body, the nervous system, and how life itself works and operates within our universe. We have a current framework of understanding that will continually be revised as we learn more.
There is indeed an incredible contemporary interest in Acupuncture Medicine that continues to grow. It is fed by patients who want safe, effective and more natural treatment options that also make them feel good about themselves and their health; unless medically necessary, I don’t think most people want to subscribe themselves to medical treatments that cause toxic side effects. It seems that there is a new research study or blurb on acupuncture at least a few times every week – acupuncture works for this, it doesn’t work for that, it’s all placebo effect, etc. Designing and evaluating research studies on acupuncture is a difficult task for two reasons:
- Acupuncture treatment is not standardized. Each treatment is adjusted to your needs as a patient. Two people with back pain in the same location may receive different treatments based on the underlying cause of the pain and any other accompanying symptoms or health problems.
- While specific treatment effects may be observed and measured, it is often difficult to determine the exact mechanism of a treatment response because there are multiple mechanisms of action.
As a result, most studies on acupuncture contain at least one primary flaw design, a way in which the study does not coincide with the real world practice of acupuncture. Fortunately, in addition to randomized, double-blind, placebo controlled studies, we can also rely upon both peer reviewed research of clinical trials as well as industry consensus evidence. All that jargon means that we utilize practicing acupuncturists to evaluate acupuncture on its merits as an ‘evidence-based medicine’ that has been accumulated and established over a couple millennial period of history.
Impact on Health
While no type of treatment works for every problem and every person, acupuncture does indeed have the potential to impact a wide variety of health conditions and disorders. Every living organism is constantly monitoring itself and checking for any sign of trouble. The cells within our bodies send signals about potential threats so that action can be taken to maintain the internal environment that is critical to healthy functioning. Modern medicine assumes that if body systems don’t self-correct immediately that they don’t have the capability to do so; it fails to recognize that steps can be taken to boost our body’s response. Acupuncture sends signals to the body’s self-management systems to trigger the best possible response to promote this homeostasis. This is the best way that I can explain how acupuncture works in your body.
For more information about how acupuncture and other treatments can help you, please contact Board Certified Licensed Acupuncturist, Steve Drugan,B.S., L.Ac., at 614.218.6287 or click here. Taking new patients in and around Columbus, Ohio.