There is a lot to be said about Acupuncture, both for and against. The literature is wide-ranging and strays from balancing on the fence to roundly accepting or lambasting it as a treatment. Considering that it has been used for a treatment for a very long time in China (and perhaps even in Europe), although current bodies of evidence don’t entirely match up to the level we expect of, for example, antibiotics, there is evidence to suggest why it works.

An acupuncture needle pierces the skin, and creates trauma, and the body reacts to this with histamines and bradykinin – chemicals of inflammation (Wilkinson, 2001). Inflammation is the way in which our bodies begin the healing process, and by introducing a microtrauma in the area of the problem, all the fantastic macrophages, cytokines and other bits and bobs that are responsible for repairing damaged bodies begin their work.

Not only this, but signals that are interpreted as pain, which reach the brain via the spine are headed off at their juncture with the spine by a pain-gating effect. The sensation of needling activates fast nerve fibres (A-delta, if you’re interested), which travel to the spine much faster than the original pain carrying signals (C-fibre, since you asked), shutting off the synapse at the spine, this is a PRE-synaptic inhibition as it happens before the information gets to the spinal cord itself.

There is also a local pain relieving effect. The segment of the spine where the needle sensation is being felt releases endorphins (the body’s version of morphine), blocking pain signals within the cord. (Stux and Hammerschlag 2001)

Whilst all this is happening, the brain is monitoring what is going on. The needling sensation appears to travel to a bit of the midbrain called the Periaquaductal grey matter. This causes Serotonin and Norepinephrine to be released, which help reduce pain POST-synaptically – which basically means at a level AFTER the impulse reaches the spinal cord.

At the same time, the Hypothalamus, another area of the brain affected by the needling, releases a beta-endorphine and a hormone (Adrenocoticotropic hormone -ACHT) into circulation, with the final effect being that another anti-inflammatory mediator – cortisol – is released into the body from your adrenal glands. (Stux and Hammerschlag, 2001).

So there is quite a lot going on both in terms of pain relief and healing effect.

Positioning of needles
A lot has been written about meridians, the function of them, different Chinese methods of using them and the Zang-fu organs to diagnose. This is all well and good from a Chinese medicine stand point, and in days of yore, was probably the most advanced way in which diseases could be identified and treated.

These days we are a bit more advanced, and although specific acupuncture points are related to certain bodily problems in certain texts, perhaps the best way to think of meridians and acupuncture points is as a map for practitioners. It is an established map, and when notes pass from one practitioner to another, it is a lot easier to say, I needled LI4, as opposed to saying, I needled the dorsum of the hand, at the mid-point of the second metacarpal, in the belly of the first interosseus dorsalis muscle. In this practice, I consider it to be notation of location.

As mentioned right at the start of this article, there are arguments for and against acupuncture and whether it is beneficial. We believe it does have a positive effect otherwise why would we have invested many hours of study and time in learning this technique and including it in our treatments. We are seeing some great results with those coming to us for treatments, but don’t take our word for it, Cat was so pleased with the results she wrote in to express her thanks following treatment with Tim.

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