How does acupuncture stop pain? - The Eastern Medicine view
According to Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), nothing in the human body can function independently. Pain is the body’s warning alarm. It tells you something is wrong. If you ignore your body’s alarm, similarly to the fire alarm in your house, severe problems can form soon.
Human body functions are dependent on the life force energy-Qi. Qi and blood flow through the meridian system, nourishing and protecting body tissues and helping them maintain their functions. If, however, the body is beset with disease or injury, normal pathological symptoms will appear and affect the organs and meridian. Once the meridian is blocked, the Qi and blood are not able to move along smoothly. As a result, the affected area will not be able to get enough nutrition. In response, the patient feels pain, tingling, stiffness, bloating, or numbness. Hence the old TCM saying, “There is a blockage, there is pain. Otherwise, there is no pain.”
The meridian system is just like a network. Each meridian is connected with a specific organ. The organ damage may show up from the meridian, and the local blockage of the meridian can affect the internal organ as well. That is why in TCM, when treating a pain condition, the doctor will not usually only focus on just the local pain, but also (and sometimes more important) work to rebalance and harmonize the whole body.
Meridian blockage can be caused by external reasons such as excessive cold, wind, dampness, dryness, fire (heat) or injury. It also can be caused by emotional change such as anger, sadness, fear, stress, depression, as well as an internal organ deficiency or malfunction. Figuring out what exactly is the cause of the pain and which meridian is blocked is extremely important in treating pain. Generally speaking, relieving blood and Qi stagnancy, balancing the energy, nourishing the tissue, increasing circulation, and building up deficient organs are all ways that TCM treats pain. Acupuncture can be used to correct the flow of Qi; Herbal medicine can be used to reestablish and balance Qi, blood and moisture in organ networks, in order to avert pathological factors.
How does acupuncture stop pain? - The Western Medicine view
- By some unknown process, Acupuncture raises levels of triglycerides, specific hormones, prostaglandins, white blood counts, gamma globulins, opsonins, and overall anti-body levels. This is called the “Augmentation of Immunity” Theory.
- The “Endorphin” Theory states that Acupuncture stimulates the secretions of endorphins in the body (specifically Enkaphalins).
- The “Neurotransmitter” Theory states that certain neurotransmitter levels (such as Seratonin and Noradrenaline) are affected by Acupuncture.
- “Circulatory” Theory: this states that Acupuncture has the effect of constricting or dilating blood vessels. This may be caused by the body’s release of Vasodilaters (such as Histamine), in response to Acupuncture.
- One of the most popular theories is the “Gate Control” Theory. According to this theory, the perception of pain is controlled by a part of the nervous system which regulates the impulse, which will later be interpreted as pain. This part of the nervous system is called the “Gate.” If the gate is hit with too many impulses, it becomes overwhelmed, and it closes. This prevents some of the impulses from getting through. The first gates to close would be the ones that are the smallest. The nerve fibers that carry the impulses of pain are rather small nerve fibers called “C” fibers. These are the gates that close during Acupuncture.
Commonly treated pain conditions by acupuncture
Migraines and Other Headaches, Carpal Tunnel Syndrome, Sciatica, Shingles, Numbness, Tremors, Bell’s Palsy, Paralysis, Post-Stroke, Trigeminal Neuralgia, Facial Palsy (Early Stage), Arthritis, Tendinitis, Bursitis, Whiplash, Muscle Spasm, Lower Back Pain, Neck/Upper Back Pain, Shoulder Pain, Sports Injuries, Frozen Shoulder, TMJ, Tennis elbow, Golf elbow, Painful period.
Clinical studies support that acupuncture is an effective modality in the treatment of almost all kinds of pain conditions, including the following: migraines, neuralgia, neck pain, back pain, herniated disc, TMJ, tennis elbow, carpal tunnel syndrome, tendonitis, bursitis, arthritis, frozen shoulder, shoulder pain, fibromyalgia, dysmenorrhea, osteoporosis, sports and other injuries, surgical pain and even cancer pain.