Acupuncture: Old vs New

How acupuncture affects the body is a rather complicated and hotly debated topic of conversation. The classical model of treatment vs placebo affect is very hard to replicate in clinical trials since it’s hard to convince a control group with no acupuncture they received “treatment.” This has left a huge gap in anecdotal evidence and research based evidence among the medical community. To fully understand acupuncture we have to look at its history alongside the progression of modern medicine.

Traditional Acupuncture

Most historians believe the practice began in China over 5,000 years ago. In Traditional Chinese Medicine, disease was seen as an imbalance or disharmony in vital energy called Qi.  Yin and yang are the two opposing Qi energies that create the diseased state when unbalanced. For example, too much yin (a calming energy) can lead to sluggishness, whereas too much yang (an excitable energy) can lead to heart palpitations.  

Acupuncture operates on the meridian system, a network of 12 channels that carry Qi throughout the human body. Using a needle to stimulate very precise acupuncture points, more Qi can be brought into the deficient meridian or redirected from an excessive meridian.

Picture the meridians as rivers. If a river is dammed, the excess water will build up and cause problems that may not be near the site of the dam. The insertion of an acupuncture needle, even if it is not near the site of pain, acts as a relief valve and can redirect the flow of Qi to a deficient meridian. Some acupuncture points, called A-shi points do not fall on a meridian, but rather are directly at sites of pain on the patient.  

Modern Acupuncture

So much has changed scientifically over the past 5,000 years that many medical practitioners want to do away with old treatment modalities like acupuncture. But I caution us not to be too hasty with our judgement. While a lot of the vernacular has changed, most of the concepts are relatively similar.

Modern medical professionals now understand that our bodies are comprised of nerves which carry electrical signals, quite literally, from head to toe . Our nervous system is divided into the sympathetic (our fight/flight response) and parasympathetic (our rest/digest) system, much in the same design as the yin/yang system. Our nerves are in constant communication with our brains to adapt to differing levels of stress, like the insertion of a needle into the skin. Acupuncture needles stimulate nerves to tell the brain to release endorphins causing a natural decrease in pain.

Dry Needling is the insertion of an acupuncture needle into a trigger point to break myofascial adhesions and increase local blood flow. One common treatment for trigger points had been cortisone injections. Researchers discovered that the insertion of only the “dry needle” provided pain relief with or without the cortisone actually being injected, thus Dry Needling was born. However, as discussed earlier A-shi needling has been around for thousands of years prior.

Whether you prefer the term Qi or nerves, yin/yang or sympathetic/parasympathetic, A-shi or Dry Needling, acupuncture is a non-invasive treatment option that may be right for you. Consult with your doctor or acupuncturist and see what symptoms acupuncture can help with.