Acupuncture:  Behind the Needles


Many patients ask me, “How does acupuncture work?”.   Well here’s how…

Acupuncture Promotes Local Healing

 Immediately after the acupuncture needles are inserted, calcitonin gene-related peptide is released, causing the local blood vessels to dilate and blood flow to increase at the surface as well as in the deeper tissue.  Sometimes this can be seen as “red patchy spots” around the needle site.  This local healing is particularly helpful with skin conditions and minor injuries.

Acupuncture Reduces Pain in the Segment Where Needles are Inserted

After the needles are inserted, the stimulus travels to the spinal cord, where the response to painful stimulus is blocked.  Most experts believe this is the main mechanism why acupuncture relieves pain.  This is called the segmental effect.

Acupuncture Produces a Calming Effect and a Positive Outlook

As the stimulus reaches the brain, various structures are stimulated, in particular the hypothalamus and limbic system.  These produce a calming effect and a state of wellbeing.  Mood is elevated and generally more positive.  Just to be clear, the pain is still present but because of the positive outlook, it is less bothersome.  This is also the mechanism by which nausea is reduced. 

Acupuncture Inactivates Myofascial trigger Points

Myofascial trigger points are specific areas of muscle that become taut and refer pain to a different location.  These can be caused by trauma, posture or repetitive use.  The causation and development of trigger points are not fully understood, but we do know acupuncture deactivates the points and reduces pain.

If you have any questions regarding acupuncture, please feel free to contact the office and ask for me.  I will be glad to give you further information.


Reference Cited

White, A, Cummings, M, & Filshie, J. (2008) An Introduction to Western Medical Acupuncture. Edinburgh: Churchhill Livingstone.