How Acupuncture Reduces The Pain That Ails You!
Acupuncture has local and distal effects. Local effects of acupuncture means that when you put acupuncture needles in the exact area of the pain, be it the shoulder or the neck, it relaxes the muscle. Distal effects means that you can needle a point far away from the painful part, or distally, and strongly spark the body’s ability to reduce the pain. In either case, the body is prodded along to deal with the pain.
Acupuncture stimulates neuro-vascular nodes that cause local and distal effects on the body. What that means is stimulating an acupuncture point affects both the flow to nerves and to the blood vessels of the body. The points of acupuncture connect to specific nervous tracts and blood vessels. By inserting a needle into the pained muscle directly, the pain relieving effects are mediated by a substance P.
4 Major Actions in Affecting Pain Relief
Substance P does four major things in regards to pain. Substance P is a chemical that is released in the body.
1) It helps to cause the muscle in a specific area to relax.
2) It increases blood flow to the area which speeds up healing by getting the nutrients into the area and cycling out dead debris and blood cells.
3) It attracts endorphins and enkephalins to reduce pain. These are hormones that interact with a certain receptor sites in the brain that reduce our perception of pain and act similarly to drugs such as morphine and codeine. In contrast to the opiate drugs, however, activation of the opiate receptors by the body’s endorphins does not lead to addiction or dependence.
4) It attracts natural steroids of the body for repair and stimulate the immune response to fight infection and repair tissue.
The Ice Pick in the Rabbit’s Butt
To explain this in a slightly different way imagine that you are a prehistoric rabbit who sat down on a splinter. Now this splinter is a life threatening situation because his movement is compromised. He cannot run away if he is attacked by a large T-Rex. Secondly, this poor rabbit cannot reproduce, which is what nature has programmed him to do. The pain in his butt will preoccupy him. So even if Ms. Bugs hopped by his neighborhood, he wouldn’t be able to buy her a drink and get to know her better. Poor Bugs!
When a needle is inserted into your painful back or shoulder, it is equivalent physiologically to your brain as if you just got stabbed severely with a splinter. (No we don’t stab you with a splinter nor a needle – read on!) This is how your brain is processing this action – internally. So the body will mount a response to this perceived threat by sending chemicals, neurotransmitters, and anti-inflammatory substances to heal the splinter. But when these substances actually arrive at the needle site, they are confronted by a single painless needle. Since the all the neurotransmitters are there already, they get to work on saving the body from the needle and in the process, heal and stop pain in that muscle. The needle acts as a stimulus and tracking beacon for the body to home in on the areas of pain by making the body respond as if it were trying to deal with a real threat – the splinter.
Distal Use of Acupuncture Points- the Second Way that Acupuncture Reduces Pain
Distal effects means that you can needle a point far away from the pain, either on an arm or a leg for neck pain for example, and reduce the pain. So how does that phenomena work?
Distal points have stronger effects on pain and inflammation than local points. So if we are treating a severe injury with swelling and redness, like a sprained ankle or we are treating fibromylagia or severe pain distal points work better.
In traditional Chinese literature, it mentioned this unique way of treating over 3,000 years ago. After all, why on earth would you want to treat the foot point to treat the neck? Or why would you needle a point below the knee to help improve digestion?
In the Yellow Emperor’s Classic, the first famous source or “Bible” book for acupuncturists, it states that
“If the head is troubled, select points on the feet. If the right is troubled, select points on the left”.
Needling far away from the painful area was recognized and talked about thousands of years ago.
Light Switches and the Aborigine
Think of this phenomena as similar to walking into a room and flipping on a light switch in the presence of an aborigine, who has never seen electricity before. To him, you just performed a skilled miracle and you are elevated to the status of demi-god (now why can’t my family treat me like this?) . To them, this phenomenon would simply be considered a miracle. The reason the rest of us shrug it off as elementary, is because we are aware of the connection – that is the wire that travels from the light switch into the lamp fixture.
Similarly, there are acupuncture points that follow alongside these broad nerve pathways and their branching connections that exist far away from their origin. These nerves can influence other far away areas of the body through free floating messengers in the blood called neuropeptides. Neuropeptides are proteins that travel in the blood stream and sense what is going on in the body without having to travel up to the brain to ask.
Therefore, acupuncture points have specific connections to areas that can be influenced far away from the needle site. All that is needed to do is to spark a message along the nerve pathway to light up this connection. Similarly to the light switch, it is simply the connection that we access when needling these points, even though they are not touching those areas.
That is pretty cool! So how does that one work? One possible explanation for this is because when we were in the embryo stage, before we started to develop, the same tissue that formed the brain, later formed the toes or the legs. So even though we don’t look like a small little peanut anymore, we do retain these “original connections” or nerve pathways that were made from the same tissue and later as our body developed. The tissue remnant later made up the different parts of us as we got more and more sophisticated in our physical development in the womb.
So to summarize, acupuncture has the ability to treat pain by putting needles directly into the site of pain (local needling) or by putting needles at specific sites, far away from the side of pain. Your acupuncturist can decide which method would be most suited to your condition after examining you, taking your history of the condition and understanding the onset of the injury.
So remember, if your acupuncturist needles your right foot for your neck pain, no he is not dyslexic, he is just turning on the light switch.
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