What is acupuncture?
Acupuncture is a form of treatment that uses the insertion of very fine needles below the level of the skin in order to improve various ailments. There are different approaches to acupuncture treatment including Traditional Chinese and Western Medical. In general, patients are asked to lie still while needles are inserted into areas of the body determined by the practitioner. They are then asked to stay still for a period of time (up to 30 minutes at most typically). Acupuncture can be used to treat a wide range of ailments and it is best to ask your health care provider if they think it can help with your specific situation. Western Medical acupuncture has five scientifically proven ways in which it works.
- Locally – Acupuncture needles stimulate nerves which release a substance that causes increased blood flow to the area. This improves healing of the tissue. (This is especially beneficial for a chronic injury that hasn’t healed well over time.)
- Spinal Cord – Acupuncture needles stimulate nerves to send signals back to the spinal cord that is responsible for supplying that area of the body. This then causes suppression of your body’s ability to perceive pain in that area.
- Brain – The signals that are sent back to the spinal cord then continue to travel up to the brain stem and activate our body’s own pain blocking mechanism. Because the brain is now working to block the feeling of pain, pain throughout the body is reduced (not just the area that was treated directly via acupuncture needles).
- Central Nervous System – After the signals reach the brainstem they continue to other structures in the brain that are responsible for regulating mood, hormones, and sensations like nausea.
- Muscle Trigger Points – Tight areas in muscles that cause pain in other areas when stimulated are referred to as trigger points. When targeted by acupuncture needles, these tight spots are inactivated leaving the muscle looser and relieving discomfort.
To summarize with an example:
Bob has low back pain. He has acupuncture performed by his therapist who has training in Western Medical acupuncture. The needles cause increased blood flow to his low back improving healing of the local structures. The region of the spinal cord that is responsible for neurological control of the low back is inhibited from sending pain signals so Bob feels less pain. The brainstem is stimulated to suppress pain signals so Bob feels less pain in his low back and also the arthritis that he often notices in his hands. The central nervous system is affected by the neurological signals activated by the acupuncture needles so although Bob is still experiencing some pain he feels happier and better able to deal with his symptoms. The tight muscles in his back that are producing some of his symptoms are also made to be looser as a result of the needles and therefore Bob feels less pain and can move around more easily.
Other aspects of acupuncture continue to be researched. This overview does not touch on the basis for Traditional Chinese acupuncture.
Dr. Amrita Singh and Dr. Melissa Hartman are both acupuncture providers. Conditions they routinely treat with acupuncture include:
- Low back pain
- Neck pain
- Carpal tunnel syndrome
- Ankle sprains
- Golf and tennis elbow
- Knee arthritis
- Hip arthritis
- Disc herniation
- Scar tissue
- Shoulder dysfunction