The History of Acupuncture
What is acupuncture exactly?
Modern research has demonstrated that neurovascular nodes (acupuncture points) contain a high concentration of sensory fibers, fine blood vessels, fine lymphatic vessels, and mast cells. These nodes are distributed along longitudinal pathways of the body where the collateral blood vessels supply the capillaries and fine vessels. The corneum stratum of the skin in these areas is slightly thinner with a lower electrical resistance. They also contain more sensory nerves, and have more fine vessels with sequestered mast cells than non nodes.
Ancient Chinese physicians recognized that neurovascular nodes (acupuncture points) on the surface of the body could reflect disease conditions in the internal organs, and that these same nodes could be stimulated to relieve pain and treat internal organ problems.
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!
Acupuncture reduces both the intensity and perception of chronic pain. It does this through a process called “descending control normalization”, which involves the serotonergic nervous system.
Acupuncture relaxes shortened muscles. This 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.
HELPING TO STOP THE PAIN
Genetically the body is not designed to be in chronic pain. It will do everything it can to get us out of pain. Inserting needles into the skin at peripheral sites “jumps” the neural threshold on the position nerve pathway, so that the signal can reach the brain. Acupuncture “reminds” the body how it should be functioning, and helps its powerful inbuilt pain relieving mechanisms kick into gear. It’s important to understand that this neurochemical mechanism not only provides pain relief, but also promotes homeostasis and tissue healing and regulates the immune, endocrine, cardiovascular and digestive systems.
Acupuncture isn’t directed toward a particular disease or condition. It works instead by activating the body’s self-healing ability. This is why acupuncture can address everything from irritable bowel syndrome to back pain to the side effects of chemotherapy.
The ancient Chinese knew that symptoms don’t arise out of nowhere. The progression from malfunction > disease process > symptom can take many years. If you just address the symptom without addressing the malfunction or disease process, healing doesn’t occur.
Acupuncturists look at the body as one interconnected whole. From this viewpoint it is impossible to consider a specific part (like the knee, or the heart) without considering it in relation to the whole. This is of course much more consistent with what we know about how ecological and biological systems (which the body is an example of) operate. And it explains why a single therapy like acupuncture can treat your entire body at the same time.