Acupuncture is a medical tool with about a 2,500 year history. It is by far one of my most utilized treatment for my patients. Acupuncture is extremely effective for anything musculoskeletal related (sore joints, tight muscles, frozen shoulder, back pain, arthritis, etc.), and is also very effective for stimulating the function of underlying organs. It is great for mood, sleep and stress too.
When it comes to cancer, I have successfully used acupuncture for peripheral neuropathy, dry mouth, tinnitus, nausea, constipation and diarrhea, hot flashes and any type of cancer related pain. It is a highly desirable complementary therapy because it has little side effects, and can be used alongside chemotherapy and radiation without interaction.
Skeptic or believer, undoubtedly at some point in treatment I get asked: “Dr. Jessa, how does sticking needles into my skin help me?” I love this question, and I always get really excited once I start explaining it.
#1 – How Does Acupuncture Help with Pain?
Numerous studies have been done since the 1970s showing that acupuncture increases endogenous opioids, such as beta-endorphin. In these studies, participants had blood draws before and after acupuncture, and compared the levels of beta-endorphin in their blood to control subjects (people who did not have acupuncture). The concentration of beta-endorphin in blood increased in the people who received acupuncture, but did not increase in the control group. Beta-endorphin and other opioids are involved in the suppression of pain.
#2 – How Does Acupuncture Help to Heal?
Another fascinating study showed that when needles are inserted, a protein called calcitonin gene related peptide (CGRP) gets released near the insertion site. The role of this neuropeptide is to cause vasodilation, or relaxation of blood vessels. When blood vessels relax, more blood flows to an area, which brings white blood cells and other molecules to the area, helping to speed the process of healing. Interestingly, the ability of acupuncture to increase CGRP is also the reason that acupuncture can help with migraines.
#3 – How Does Acupuncture Help Relax Muscles?
Have you ever been stressed out, and felt some neck stiffness, only to rub your neck and feel all those “knots” in your muscles? Those knots are called trigger points. Trigger points develop in muscles after repetitive stress or injury. These trigger points have increased electrical activity, and this activity causes muscle cells to shorten, which causes that tight, achy sensation. By needling into these trigger points, this stimulates vasodilation to the area, thus causing relaxation of the muscle. You will often feel instantaneous relief!
As you can see, there are real, physiological mechanisms by which acupuncture effects the body to help with various types of symptoms. It is an extremely effective therapy for a variety of conditions. If you have any personal questions, please contact me to see if I can help.