While I personally love the description that acupuncture works “like magic,” I always make a point of communicating the scientific reasoning behind the needling. Let’s break it all down!
1. The insertion of very fine needles beneath skin’s surface cause an excitatory effect on the nerves in that area, activating what we commonly refer to as a “neural response.” This neural response is often described as a sensation of heaviness, a mild tingle or a very dull ache. When the individual starts to feel that “slightly different” feeling, we know that the nerves have started to respond to the treatment.
2. After the nerves around the selected acu-points have become excited, they begin transmitting the message from the distal areas of the body to the spinal cord.
3. From the spinal cord, the neural stimulation then begins to ascend through the afferent nerve fibers up to the brain.
4. Depending on which points were selected and why, different areas of the brain will be affected by way of the nervous system. This is where we see physiological actions such as pain reduction, hormone regulation and activation of specific receptors in the brain such as dopamine and serotonin.
5. The hypothalamus and pituitary gland in the brain then respond to this incoming stimulation and sends the corresponding message back down to the spinal cord.
6. From there, the spinal cord disperses whatever action the brain commands by way of the nervous system, transmitting specific actions to selected parts of the body.
A Good Analogy:
Imagine your nervous system as an organized mass of electrical wires, your spinal column as a circuit board and your brain as the central processor;
When stimulated by needles, the wires (your nerves) transmit a signal to the circuit board (your spine) which then carries the message to the central processor (your brain).
This central processor (your brain) then responds back by sending specific commands down to the circuit board (your spine), where this message is then communicated back through the wires (your nerves), producing the desired results.
Whichever way you choose to look at it, the science behind acupuncture’s success comes down to the fact that the nervous system acts as the central bridge of communication between the mind and the body.
The “magic” of acupuncture is in its ability to surf the waves of this bridge, uniting the mind, body and spirit into a gentle state of balance.