Can Acupuncture cause nerve damage?
What is acupuncture and how does it work?
The practice of acupuncture is thought to have begun over 2000 years ago with the discovery that the stimulation of specific areas on the skin, called acupoints, can affect the functioning of certain organs of the body. It has developed into a system of medicine that restores and maintains health by the insertion of fine needles into these points just beneath the body surface. According to Chinese Medical Theory, qi (or life-force) travels along pathways called meridians, bringing energy and nourishment to all the tissues of the body. Acupuncture can remove obstructions from these pathways, or strengthen the qi of certain areas thereby correcting imbalances that produce pain or dysfunction.
Especially over the past 40 years, acupuncture has become more popular in the Western world, leading patients and researchers to ask, “but how does it really work?” Unless you accept the traditional Chinese understanding of human physiology, this is a difficult question to answer. So far, no single scientific explanation has been able to account for the varied effects acupuncture has been shown to produce. However, several of the most common theories are described below.
- Acupuncture can increase blood circulation to a particular area.
Compared to non-acupoint sites, acupoint sites have greater densities of sensory nerve endings. Attracted to these receptor rich endings are two types of molecules that have been shown to widen blood vessels and lower blood pressure. Getting more blood flow to the site of an injury can assist healing. This may also explain why acupuncture can be helpful with fertility issues in that it can increase blood flow to the ovaries and uterus.
- Acupuncture can stimulate the release of endorphins.
Endorphins are natural painkillers in the central nervous system that, when released, often eliminate all sensation of pain. Experiments with acupuncture have shown that there are higher levels of endorphins in brain and spinal cord fluid following acupuncture. Using acupuncture to increase endorphin release is useful because endorphins are known to reduce stress, boost the immune system, improve blood circulation, ward off the effects of aging, and control pain.
- Acupuncture reduces the sensation of pain registered by the brain
After completing brain imaging of 12 people who experienced some type of pain, scientists at the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey compared those images to the images of the same 12 people after acupuncture. In the pictures of the brain before acupuncture, the area of the brain that shows pain was lit up with activity. In the pictures after each patient’s acupuncture treatment, the color in the area that was lit up with activity had decreased by 60 to 70 percent.
- Acupuncture can help regulate cardiovascular, gastrointestinal, and immunological function.