THE WESTERN PERSPECTIVE
Original Works Taken From: The Dao of Chinese Medicine, Robert Doane LAc. and Chris Kresser LAc.
There is no point in putting something so fantastic into my own words! A way to explain Acupuncture that will finally make sense to EVERYONE. I’ve taken excerpts from those mentioned above, I hope you are as facinated reading it as I was researching and writing it!
To your good health…
SO WHAT ARE QI AND ACUPUNCTURE POINTS
The Chinese describe the lungs breathing in what they call “da qi”. If you look up da qi in a Chinese dictionary, you’ll see it defined as “great air”. The Chinese explained that the lungs breathed in air, and the lungs extracted the qi from the da qi. What do our lungs get from the air that sustains life? Oxygen.
Qi is defined as vital vapor, air, or the essence of air. It can also refer to the function of something. Qi is the oxygen we breathe and air that surrounds us.
The Chinese also described how this oxygen (qi) gets around the body: through the blood. They knew this from the dissections they had performed. They knew blood circulated through blood vessels and the vascular system, which they had painstakingly identified and measured.
The word the Chinese used for vessel is “mai”. Mai is correctly translated as vessel. “Xue Mai” is correctly translated as blood vessel (xue = blood).
Modern research has demonstrated that neurovascular nodes (acupuncture points) contain a high concentration of sensory fibers, fine blood vessels, fine lymphatic vessels, and mast cells. These nodes are distributed along longitudinal pathways of the body where the collateral blood vessels supply the capillaries and fine vessels. The corneum stratum of the skin in these areas is slightly thinner with a lower electrical resistance. They also contain more sensory nerves, and have more fine vessels with sequestered mast cells than non nodes.
Ancient Chinese physicians recognized that neurovascular nodes (acupuncture points) on the surface of the body could reflect disease conditions in the internal organs, and that these same nodes could be stimulated to relieve pain and treat internal organ problems. This was a revolutionary discovery that formed the theoretical basis for acupuncture treatment.
- When the terms qi (oxygen), mai (vessel) and jie (neurovascular node) are properly translated, it becomes clear that there is no disagreement between ancient Chinese medical theory and contemporary principles of anatomy and physiology
- Acupuncture releases natural painkillers. Inserting a needle sends a signal through the nervous system to the brain, where chemicals such as endorphins, norepinephrine and enkephalin are released. Some of these substances are 10-200 times more potent than morphine!
- Acupuncture reduces both the intensity and perception of chronic pain. It does this through a process called “descending control normalization”, which involves the serotonergic nervous system.
- Acupuncture relaxes shortened muscles. This in turn releases pressure on joint structures and nerves, and promotes blood flow.
- Acupuncture reduces stress. This is perhaps the most important systemic effect of acupuncture. Recent research suggests that acupuncture stimulates the release of oxytocin, a hormone and signaling substance that regulates the parasympathetic nervous system. You’ve probably heard of the “fight-or-flight” response that is governed by the sympathetic nervous system. The parasympathetic nervous system has been called the “rest-and-digest” or “calm-and-connect” system, and in many ways is the opposite of the sympathetic system. Recent research has implicated impaired parasympathetic function in a wide range of autoimmune diseases, including arthritis, lupus, rheumatoid arthritis and inflammatory bowel disease.
HELPING TO STOP THE PAIN
Inserting needles into the skin at peripheral sites “jumps” the neural threshold on the position nerve pathway, so that the signal can reach the brain. Once the signal reaches the brain, the brain recognizes there is pain and where it’s coming from and releases enkephalins (painkillers).
This initial response is very fast. It should be perceived as almost instantaneous by the patient. But after the acupuncture treatment the patient goes home and the pain comes back. The old bad habit of the nerve chronically firing below the threshold re-establishes itself. The body, just like the mind, has a hard time breaking bad habits.
But if the patient returns in a couple of days to get another treatment, the neural threshold will be jumped again. And if you keep jumping the neural threshold, eventually the central and peripheral nervous system figure out that it’s better to operate in the non-pain state than in the pain state. The technical term for this is re-establishment of neurological homeostasis.
Once this happens, the brain is no longer receiving pain signals from the injured site. It no longer thinks the site is injured or threatening the survival of the body. Now, instead of restricting blood flow to the site, the brain does the opposite. It immediately vasodilates the capillaries and venules around the site, which increases blood flow and begins the healing process.
This describes how acupuncture relieves pain via the peripheral and central nervous system.
Genetically the body is not designed to be in chronic pain. It will do everything it can to get us out of pain. Acupuncture “reminds” the body how it should be functioning, and helps its powerful inbuilt pain relieving mechanisms kick into gear. It’s a bit like jump starting a car. You’re not changing how the car works, or even adding anything to the engine. You’re just giving the battery a little jolt so the car can run how it’s supposed to.
It’s important to understand that this neurochemical mechanism not only provides pain relief, but also promotes homeostasis and tissue healing and regulates the immune, endocrine, cardiovascular and digestive systems. This explains why getting acupuncture treatment for your knee pain also addresses other problems you might have, such as asthma, irritable bowel, high blood pressure, anxiety and insomnia.
ADVANTAGES OF ACUPUNCTURE AND WHY IT WORKS
Acupuncture isn’t directed toward a particular disease or condition. It works instead by activating the body’s self-healing ability. This is why acupuncture can address everything from irritable bowel syndrome to back pain to the side effects of chemotherapy.
When you get an acupuncture treatment for elbow pain, your elbow pain will go away but it’s also likely that you’ll see improvements in other areas. The headaches you’ve had for ten years will get better, you’ll have more energy, you’ll be better able to handle stress, and you’ll sleep better.
The reason acupuncture can do this is that it focuses on treating the root cause of your health problems. The ancient Chinese knew that symptoms don’t arise out of nowhere. Symptoms are manifestations of an underlying malfunction and disease process. The progression from malfunction > disease process > symptom can take many years. If you just address the symptom without addressing the malfunction or disease process, healing doesn’t occur.
The Chinese also knew that a malfunction or disease process can give rise to many different symptoms that may seem unrelated. For example, headaches, heartburn and skin rashes may all be expressions of the same underlying problem.
Acupuncturists look at the body as one interconnected whole. From this viewpoint it is impossible to consider a specific part (like the knee, or the heart) without considering it in relation to the whole. This is of course much more consistent with what we know about how ecological and biological systems (which the body is an example of) operate. And it explains why a single therapy like acupuncture can treat your entire body at the same time.