New Life Synergy patients often ask me how acupuncture works. They want to know how sticking a needle in their hand will help with their headache or why a needle in their leg will ease back pain.
And because acupuncture is an ancient medicine, it’s a bit of a complex answer, depending on how you look at it.
Acupuncture was the primary medicine in China, with the earliest “textbook” dating to 100 BC. In this script, our first acupuncture healers discussed and catalogued aspects of illness and treatment in length. The ancient scholars chose not to get too wrapped up in aspects like how acupuncture specifically worked. Instead, they observed how the patients and the complaint itself reportedly changed. They also compared it to the changes around them in the natural world.
In contrast, scientists and medical researchers today have invested a lot of time and effort into an incredibly large number of studies to get to the bottom of exactly how acupuncture eases pain. Interestingly, acupuncture is considered the recommended first-line treatment for chronic back pain by the American College of physicians and pain society!
How does directly needling my sore back/shoulder/neck help?
When an acupuncturist treats a sore spot on your body by putting needles into that exact spot, it increases blood flow and nerve activity. As a result, the nerves receive more nutrient and oxygen-filled blood and a boost in positive nerve stimulation. That process reduces inflammation and encourages healing. In addition, acupuncture can release the tension in the fascia (the lining of the muscle) and muscle knots, helping them relax. Sometimes our Life Synergy acupuncturists will use a special machine directly on the needle spot to trigger muscle relaxation and ease the discomfort muscle knots create.
How does a needle in the leg/hand/foot help my neck/back?
The body is well connected within itself through our nerve fibres and the fascia or muscle lining. This means it is possible for a needle in the leg to release and stimulate the muscle/nerve closer to the spine – for example, in the lower back. This acupuncture technique is particularly useful for our patients experiencing incredible pain. It means we can release the tension and discomfort in the painful area by not even having to needle that sore spot. So, for example, if a patient has a really sore foot, we can needle the calf. And by increasing blood flow and relaxing muscles away from the affected area, the blood flow and sensation to the foot improve.
Acupuncture releases our natural painkillers.
With more and more studies into how acupuncture works and its effectiveness in treating pain, we are learning more about acupuncture’s effect on hormones. These studies have started to find that when used correctly, acupuncture appears to stimulate the body’s ability to naturally release its own painkillers (opiates) as well as increase the body’s ability to receive them. Acupuncture has also been shown to suppress how the body responds to inflammation and perceives pain. The studies show that over one year, acupuncture can typically outperform opiate medication like Endone with the added benefit that the patient eventually no longer even needs it. This means similar relief can be achieved from acupuncture with the added benefit of no side effects and potentially reaching a point where no more treatments are needed as the pain problems go away.
So, if you’re tired of that crook back or stubborn shoulder ache, contact the Life Synergy team or book an appointment on our website.
Acupuncturist Evan McColgan wrote this blog. Evan works out of our Burleigh Heads clinic. He is passionate about helping his patients improve their quality of life through a blend of Western and Eastern Medicine.