For thousands of years, acupuncture has been practiced as an important aspect of Traditional Chinese Medicine, and since it was introduced to the United States in the 1970s, it has seen a steady increase in popularity in the West as an alternative method of relieving pain and restoring energetic flow in the body. What exactly is this holistic, alternative treatment, and how does acupuncture work for pain relief?

On Pins and Needles

The use of needles for balancing the flow of energy in the body was first documented as a system in about 100 BC in China. According to ancient texts, the life-force energy, or Qi, that animates the body, runs along pathways called meridians. By inserting very small, sterile needles into the skin along specific points in the body, a number of symptoms including pain, nausea, and others can be alleviated by restoring balanced energy flow. Sessions include the insertion of a few to a few dozen needles by an acupuncture specialist and remain in place while the patient relaxes for up to 30 minutes. How exactly does acupuncture work for pain relief?

Pain Relief is the Point

There are a number of theories about how acupuncture relieves pain, but there’s no denying that it’s effective.  A study published in the Archives of Internal Medicine reviewed the results of 29 studies of 18,000 participants, and found that acupuncture, in conjunction with other healing modalities, relieved reports of pain by over 50%. Some theories about the mechanism of relief include:

  • Acupuncture works through neurohormonal paths in the body. The tiny needles inserted into the skin stimulate nerves that send signals to the brain for release of hormones like endorphins.
  • Another idea includes the hypothesis that the needles reduce pro-inflammatory markers in the body.

“One major hypothesis is that acupuncture works through neurohormonal pathways. Basically, you put the needle through specific points in the body and stimulate the nerve. The nerve actually sends signals to the brain, and the brain releases neural hormones such as beta-Endorphins. By doing that, the patient may feel euphoric, or happy, and this increases the pain threshold and they feel less pain,” Bao said.

Kylie Study, an acupuncturist and traditional Chinese medicine practitioner at Beaumont Hospital, agrees that current research shows that acupuncture probably excites the biochemical responses in the human body via the nerves. Acupuncture itself doesn’t directly release feel-good chemicals that can aid in inflammation, stress, and so forth, according to Study, but it works higher up the chain such as affecting the pituitary gland to produce the extra hormones.

Another hypothesis is that acupuncture works by reducing pro-inflammatory markers, or proteins, in the body. Some animal and human studies suggest that by doing acupuncture, you can significantly decrease these pro-inflammatory markers — including TNF and IL-1β — which decreases inflammation and reduces pain, Bao said. One such spot is just below the knee (known as stomach 36), according to Study. This point is used in a wide variety of treatments that involve inflammation anywhere in the body, as well as for increasing energy and the immune system, which in turn also help to decrease inflammation.

Yet another hypothesis applies specifically to how acupuncture can be used to treat nerve damage, such as chemo-induced peripheral neuropathy, a condition that often causes numbness or weakness in the feet and hands.

“The idea is that by putting the needle in, you stimulate the brain to secrete some nerve growth factor, and then that helps the nerve to regenerate,” Bao said.

Consider Non-Invasive Alternatives for Your Chronic Pain Relief

If you’re seeking an acupuncture specialist in Naples for alternative health and wellness treatments, contact Synergy Health today! Our aim is to provide a fully comprehensive treatment plan that offers every patient compassionate care and non-surgical, non-opioid options for getting out of pain as soon as possible. We view practices like acupuncture to be a great complement to treatments like chiropractic, physical and massage therapies, laser therapy, and bioDensity therapy. Call today to learn more!