Before the AFC Championship game of the 2017-2018 season, New England Patriots’ quarterback Tom Brady badly injured his right thumb during a training section. Everyone worried that NE Patriots would lose the final. However, with 290 yards and two touch downs, Tom and his team delivered an exciting comeback win over the Jacksonville Jaguars in the AFC final. How could Tom deliver another masterful performance with such a bad injury? Shortly after the final game, several media reports revealed that acupuncture along with modern medicine effectively and efficiently helped the healing process of the gruesome gash of the great quarterback. Acupuncture was one of the secret weapons!!! You can read the detailed information about this story here. This is just one of millions of successful stories of acupuncture.
If you never had an acupuncture treatment but paid attention to and read about the abovementioned story, you would notice that, during his acupuncture treatment, there were just several hair-thin needles inserted into specific points around the gruesome wound on Mr. Brady’s right hand. It looked like a very simple procedure and you probably would wonder why acupuncture works fast and are highly effective with minimal negative side effects. I hope that the following brief introduction of the science of acupuncture will answer your questions.
Acupuncture is an art of and also a scientific form of natural healing, which is an essential part of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM). Acupuncture evolves through thousands of years of practice in China and more importantly, through clinical applications all around the world nowadays. Solid evidence from its clinical applications in modern era has proven that acupuncture is an important complimentary approach to modern medicine and it is an effective preventative and therapeutic medical procedure for almost all known medical conditions.
Science of Acupuncture
Energy Transfer and Balance in Human Body in Traditional Chinese Medicine
How does acupuncture deliver its therapeutic and preventive effect? In brief, Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) believes that human body has very powerful self-healing potentials and acupuncture is one of effective techniques that maintain and boost these self-healing potentials. More specifically, according to the fundamental theories of the TCM, human beings are children of the Mother nature and, therefore, health human body runs and interacts with the nature in a harmonious pace so that body can absorb energy and essence from the nature. This kind of energy and energy exchange is often described as the Qi from the TCM.
There are two levels of harmony of human body: the external harmony between the body and the natural/ social environment in which we live, and the internal harmony that maintains the balance inside. Both types of harmony intertwine and interact with each in a profound way.
- The external harmony enables the body to acclimatize the surviving surrounding. Here the surrounding includes not only regular seasonal changes and our daily social life, but also severe and abnormal climate changes or dramatic social events. If a good external harmony is achieved, the body can absorb energy from the nature efficiently to enhance the internal harmony. This is part of reasons why most people will feel more energetic during the spring and summer time when you have more access to the natural environment. This also explains why you feel happy and relaxed when you have a friendly and joyful social circle.
- The internal harmony provides a stable internal environment so that the body can adjust better to both regular and unexpected changes in the natural and social environment. If an excellent internal harmony is maintained, the body can smoothly handle not only the unusual seasonal changes but also increased work- and social-related pressure, which ultimately improve the external harmony.
Because of interactions between two types of harmony, they formulate and trigger self-healing potentials of the human body. The self-healing potentials are also powerful feedback tools that human body implements to maintain and adjust external and internal harmony. We will get sick if we cannot keep the internal balance or lose pace with the nature. In another word, illness happens when human body cannot normally trigger self-healing capability.
The Meridian and Energy Balance of Human Body
Human bodies adjust and maintain both types of harmony through a dedicated internal network dubbed the Meridians or Channels. The network of meridians spreads over the body, connecting different internal organ systems (e.g., respiratory, digestive and nervous systems) as well as all sensory organs (such as eyes, ears and hands) together as the network pass through them. Although not anatomically identical, it is safe to make an analogy that the meridian distributes around the body similar to the distributions of the circulatory and nervous systems studied by the modern medicine. The Meridian is the most important concept of the TCM and it is the dedicated network where exchange and distribution of energy happens, both between the body and the nature and among different systems of the body. Each organ system has multiple outlets on a dedicated region of the Meridian for energy exchange. For example, from the neck down to the waist region along the spine (Figure 1), the TCM theory identifies several important outlets on the Meridian that correspond to the lung, the heart, the liver, the gallbladder, the spleen and the stomach. The energy status of these energy outlets is directly affected by the function of each corresponding organ, e.g. a blockage in the lung outlets near the thoracic spine could be the indication of sub-optimal heath condition in the respirational system. More severe conditions, such as diabetes, will cause multiple blockages within the Meridians, such as those with the heart, the liver and the pancreas. Improve energy transfer at these energy outlets will also, in turn, balance and improve the functions of the corresponding organ systems.
Acupuncture Points Along the Meridian
More importantly, for these organ-specific outlets along the Meridian, the TCM and acupuncture theory also identify several small pin-point areas on the skin surface just above these outlets that are functionally associated with these organs. These pin-point areas on the skin surface are called acupuncture points and they spread over the body following the anatomical distribution of the Meridian in vivo. When hairline-thin acupuncture needles are inserted into these points, most patients will not feel pain sensations due to ultra-sharp and thin needle tips. Instead they can feel low to mild level of sensation of sourness and tingling. With continuous stimulation from inserted needles, the energy transfer, also referred as Qi in the terminology of the TCM, at the organ-specific outlets associated with those acupuncture points will be adjusted through multiple physiological mechanisms, such as increased local microcirculation and adjustment of released chemicals by the body. All these mechanisms will in turn change/adjust functional status of the corresponding organs to achieve self-healing purpose. The stimulation on organ-specific energy outlets along the Meridian through dedicated acupuncture points is the key for therapeutic effect of the acupuncture.
Figure 1: Maps of the acupuncture points (the black points) on the back of the body that are associated with different anatomical organ systems along the Meridian (the dash lines).
Evidences from Modern Studies of Acupuncture Treatment
Modern electrophysiology studies also find that acupuncture points have high sensitivity to bio-electrical signals in vivo and stimulation on these points can alternate local and distal bio-electrical activities. Using acupuncture treatment of acute and chronic pain as an example, inserting needles at the acupuncture points corresponding to the body where pain happens, stimulates various sensory receptors which send electrical impulses to the hypothalamic-pituitary system at the base of the brain. The hypothalamus-pituitary glands are responsible for releasing neurotransmitters and endorphins, the body’s natural hormones for pain-relief. It is estimated that endorphins are 200 times more potent than morphine. This is why acupuncture works well for back pain and arthritis pain and migraine. Similarly, acupuncture regulates the level of serotonin in the brain, which plays a role in human and animal disposition. This is why depression is often treated with acupuncture.
Acupuncture-induced physiological effects observed throughout the body include increased circulation, decreased inflammation, relief of pain, relief of muscle spasms and increased T-cell count which boosts the immune system. These evidences from modern science are consistent with the TCM/acupuncture theory and further prove that, the endogenous and natural substances released as results of acupuncture will enhance natural healing, adjust the functions of the corresponding organ systems, and modulate the immune system through preventative cares of acupuncture. An excellent acupuncturist can help you recover self-healing capability without heavy dependence on exogenous substances, such as prescribed medicines. Therefore, in general, there is a less risk of chemical side effects with acupuncture treatment.
What is a typical acupuncture treatment procedure in my clinic
During your visit, I will first communicate with you about your current health concerns and on-going issues. I will start your acupuncture treatment with a section of touching-pulse to diagnose on-going health concerns/issues of your body. The touching-pulse will also help me to have more objective evaluation of the effectiveness of previous acupuncture treatments so that I can adjust the on-going treatment to maximize the efficacy of the treatment. and then proceed with needle insertion on the acupuncture points that are associated with the organ system related to health issues. Stimulations from the needle insertion on those dedicated acupuncture points will