image of acupuncture
Acupuncture & TCM

What is Acupuncture

Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) has been slowly growing in popularity in the West since the early 1970’s.  However, it is still not well understood by many people. TCM is a system of diagnosing and healing that has been developing since pre-Christian times.  It involves a number of modalities including needle therapy (acupuncture), herbal medicine, heat therapy (moxibustion), diet therapy, cupping and scraping (gua sha).

Needle Therapy / Acupuncture

Acupuncture is perhaps the most recognized treatment method in Chinese medicine.  It involves inserting very fine needles into specific locations of the body.  These points can be palpated diagnostically for sensitivity, numbness or minute temperature changes, and to assess the effectiveness of treatment.  The application of needle stimulation at these points is used to regulate vital substances and functional activities of the body.  

Insertion of needles into the superficial body requires knowledge of both the location of the point and the underlying anatomical structures.  Today we use very fine (0.16-0.3mm), individually packaged, pre-sterilized, single-use needles.  The needles may be removed immediately or they may be retained in the body for a period of 20-40 minutes.

How Acupuncture Works

  1. Reduce Inflammation. Acupuncture decreases the body’s ability to perpetuate the inflammatory cascade. When the body sustains an injury part of the natural healing process is to create inflammation. Sometimes there is too much inflammation causing pain.
  2. Improve Blood Flow. Acupuncture signals the brain to increase blood flow to starved tissues. Partially via #4 since super tight muscles will “clamp down” on the arterioles and capillaries running through them and partially through vasodilation.
  3. Reduce Pain. Acupuncture stimulates the release of endorphins (natural painkillers), enkephalins and other neurotransmitters and hormones. These hormones act together to reduce pain locally and cause the brain to become less sensitive to pain signals.
  4. Decrease Muscle Spasms. Local needling releases chemicals in the body that soften muscle spasms. It can also help regulate the motor neuron supplying the muscle so that it sends fewer signals to the muscle, allowing the muscle to relax.
  5. Repair Tissues. An acupuncture needle does tiny amounts of cell damage that cause the release of chemicals that signal the body to manufacture and mobilize cells that repair tissue damage.

Further Reading

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