Over the years of practicing acupuncture I see some common patterns. Although, acupuncture treats pain effectively, it can also treat a myriad of conditions. It is my goal for this article to clarify acupuncture in general.
Acupuncture has been around for 6,000 years in some primitive form. It is not till the advent of mining and smelting do we see the use of needles. Acupuncture is one of many disciplines that make up what we call Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM). TCM consists of acupuncture, herbs, tuina (bodywork), qigong exercise, and vasopneumatic therapy (cupping). in this article we will focus on acupuncture.
I tell all my patients that 75% of my job is education. Whether you schedule with myself or another practitioner you should know a few things about acupuncture. These are common question people ask me all the time:
Does it hurt?
How does it work?
Is it safe?
1. Acupuncture does not hurt. The needles are very fine and are inserted painlessly. The key to painless insertion is to rapidly insert the needle so that the skin does not have a chance to feel it. Once the needle is in we do not introduce or take out any substances like a syringe.
2. First and foremost, it is imperative to indicate that acupuncture has physiological effects that are reproducible on animals who are not influenced by placebo (Sedita, 2015). They are broken down into local, regional, and central effects (Karavis, 1996 p. 1):
- The local effect represents the impact of microinjury on local tissue. Substance P and Calcitonin gene-related peptide increase circulation through vasodilation (Wu, 2015 p.15; See figure 1.) diffuse noxious inhibitory controls of anti-nociception
- The microinjury sensation travels over acute pain pathway that block chronic pain signals according to Melzac and Wall’s gate theory (Deardorff, w. 2003).
- When the micro injury signal gets to the brain it releases endorphins (Han, 2005) and alters perception of pain in the limbic system where the memory of the pain is stored (Hui, 2010).
Once the needles are in, the body recognizes them as foreign and reacts a certain way. It will immediately divert the circulation to the affected area. When the blood arrives it bring oxygen, nutrients, immune cells, and hormones for proper physiological function.
In order to feel pain it is a signal that goes from the affected area to the brain. Acupuncture has been shown; through the use of MRI, that it can alter the perception of pain by blocking the pain signal.
As the body acknowledges the needle it will try to sedate the patient by releasing endorphins. Endorphins are the feel good hormones that provide the relaxation, and sense of well being that acupuncture is known for.
3. The last question; “is it safe?”, refers mostly to biohazard. The needle are sterile one time use, and never reused. They are disposed of in sharps containers. There is little risk of cross contamination because I am trained in clean needle technique. Clean needle technique involves the swabbing of acupuncture points with alcohol and insertion of needles within a sterile environment. Safety is important. The risk of a serious adverse event with acupuncture is estimated to be 0.0005% per 10,000 treatments, and 0.0055% per 10,000 individual patients (White, 2004).
The World Health Organization (WHO) comments that unlike many drugs, acupuncture is non-toxic and adverse reactions or side effects are minimal. For instance, acupuncture and morphine have similar rates of effectiveness when used for chronic pain, but with acupuncture, unlike morphine, a patient does not have the negative side effect of dependency.
The National Institutes of Health (NIH) states that relatively few complications have been reported, in light of the millions of people treated with it every year. According to NIH studies, the numbers of people who have received acupuncture treatments in the U.S. has increased.
About the author
Michael D. Beys L. Ac., D.A.C.M. is a Doctor of Acupuncture and Herbal Medicine. His training consisted of over 3000 hours in the study of acupuncture and herbal medicine and has over 20 years of clinical experience. He was supervising acupuncturist at RUMC’s substance abuse Detox Center, South Beach Psychiatric Rehab facility and treating acupuncture physician at Sunrise Detox.
He is also fluent in Greek, and Spanish, and proficient in Mandarin, Arabic, and Italian. Currently his practice focuses on fertility and women’s health, pain management, and substance abuse mental health.
Sedita, S. (2015, May 30). Acupuncture is not a placebo effect. In yin yang house. Retrieved November 16, 2017, from https://yinyanghouse.com/acupuncture/acupuncture-is-not-a-placebo-effect
Karavis, M. (1997, May). The neurophysiology of acupuncture: a viewpoint [Electronic version]. BMJ Acupuncture in Medicine, 15(1), 33-42. doi:10.1136/aim.15.1.33
Wu, M., Shu, D., Bai, W., Cui, J., Shu, H., He, W., & Wang, X. (2015, September). Local cutaneous nerve terminal and mast cell responses to manual acupuncture in acupoint LI4 area of the rats. Journal of Chemical Neuroanatomy, 68, 14-21. doi:https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jchemneu.2015.06.002
Deardorff, W. W. (2003, March 11). The Gate Control Theory of Chronic Pain. In SPINE-health. Retrieved from https://www.spine-health.com/conditions/chronic-pain/gate-control-theory-chronic-pain
Han, J. S. (2004, April 5). Acupuncture and endorphins. In US National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health Search Database Search Term Search. Retrieved from PubMed (10.1016/j.neulet.2003.12.019).
Hui, K. K., Marina, O., Liu, J., Rosen, B., & Kwong, K. (2010, October 28). Acupuncture, the Limbic System, and the Anticorrelated Networks of the Brain. In US National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health Search Database Search Term Search. Retrieved from PubMed ( 10.1016/j.autneu.2010.03.022).