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By Dr. Overmiller
In China and many other countries in the Far East, acupuncture has been a popular and effective treatment for more than three thousand years. But we here in the West are still trying to understand why acupuncture works and what it is good for.
Acupuncture is derived from the concept in traditional Chinese/Eastern medicine that disease results from a disruption in the flow of chi, the body’s circulating life energy, and imbalances in the forces of yin and yang. Chi is said to flow along pathways in the human body known as meridians.
According to Eastern thought, there are as many as twenty meridians and more than two thousand acupuncture points found along them. Applying tiny needles or, sometimes, pressure or heat to those points is believed to deliver therapeutic effects for patients.
The success of acupuncture is evident in its popularity in the U.S. and its growing acceptance among medical professionals. A 2002 National Center for Health Statistics survey estimated that over eight million adults received acupuncture treatments.
But just how it works is a bit of a mystery. Western researchers are still attempting to understand exactly what is happening. In a consensus statement issued by the National Institutes of Health in 1997, scientists acknowledged that some of the tenets of acupuncture like the flow of chi and the network of meridians are “difficult to reconcile with contemporary biomedical information,” but argued that there is “clear evidence” that acupuncture works for treatment of post-operative and chemotherapy-induced nausea and vomiting.
They also found evidence of pain relief from conditions such as post-operative dental pain, menstrual cramps, tennis elbow, and fibromyalgia. In other words, we don’t know exactly how it works, but it seems to work well for a variety of conditions. Here are a few theories on what could be happening.
One theory that is supported by recent studies is that acupuncture stimulates the release of the body’s own painkillers, such as endorphins. This results in a quick reduction in pain.
Another theory is that acupuncture is putting up a roadblock against pain. This “gate control theory” states that acupuncture may activate peripheral nerves to shut the “gate” on pain signals traveling through the spinal cord. The idea of interrupting pain signals is also the basis for another alternative therapy, transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS).
While these theories don’t explain why acupuncture works well for sinus/allergy-related issues or for relieving muscle spasm, they do give us a more Western explanation for why it works in relieving pain from injury, plantar fasciitis, fibromyalgia, and why it may work for many other conditions.
Dr. Overmiller practices at Childress Specific Chiropractic, 210 Commerce in Childress, 940-937-6600.