Updated: Apr 13, 2022
From a western medicine point of view acupuncture causes many physiological changes in the body including vasodilation (increased blood flow), stimulation of hormones and neurotransmitters, and stimulating the parasympathetic nervous system (allowing the patient to achieve very deep relaxation). Acupuncture also invokes an analgesic effect by altering the body’s own natural pain-relieving opiate system. Our bodies produce a wide range of natural pain-relieving substances, anti-inflammatory chemicals, hormones, immune system enhancers — all without the need for outside drugs. In fact, some of our most effective drugs are synthetic copies of the chemicals our body makes naturally. Acupuncture helps to tap into and stimulate those existing resources to more quickly help your body to balance itself to resolve disease and discomfort. Modern research has demonstrated that most acupuncture points are located at neurovascular nodes where there is 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 (in many instances closely aligned to the Meridian pathways understood in TCM) where the collateral blood vessels supply the capillaries and fine vessels. 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 these nodes 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. More recent research is revealing the vital communicative role played by the connective tissues (includes the fascia, ligaments, tendons, and even blood) in our bodies. Connective tissue is one of the most integral components of the human machine. Indeed, one could draw a line between any two points of the body via a path of connective tissue. This network is so extensive and ubiquitous that if we were to lose every organ, muscle, bone, nerve, and blood vessel in our bodies, we would still maintain the same shape: our “connective-tissue body.” Recent research is revealing that many systems of the body may be affected by mechanical changes to these connective tissues. The type of mechanical stimulus provided by acupuncture is believed to convert into chemical reactions and activity and may be responsible for a number of physiological processes in the body. It is estimated that there is an 80% correspondence between the site of acupuncture points and the location of intermuscular or intramuscular connective tissue. Broadly speaking, acupuncture has three primary effects:
It restores homeostasis. Homeostasis refers to the body’s ability to regulate its environment and maintain internal balance. All diseases involve a disturbance of homeostasis, and nearly all diseases involve some degree of pain and inflammation. In fact, research over the last several decades suggests that many serious conditions like heart disease previously thought to have other causes are in fact primarily caused by chronic inflammation. If we understand that most diseases are characterized by pain, inflammation and disturbance of homeostasis, we begin to understand why acupuncture can be effective for so many conditions.