Generally speaking, acupuncture improves blood circulation, inhibits inflammation, relieves neuropathic and visceral pain, calms down the nervous system, and accelerates tissue repair.
But what makes acupuncture so powerful? At this point, there is no unified theory of acupuncture. Multiple mechanisms have been proposed.
An early attempt to explain acupuncture analgesia, this theory postulates that dorsal root ganglion (DRG) neurons are inhibited by acupuncture, thus interrupting the pain signal to the brain.
Needle insertion triggers a myofascial release of contracted muscle fibers. This instantaneous effect is harnessed by medical doctors and physical therapists in trigger point therapy.
Acupuncture needle stimulates the nerves in the local tissues. This causes the release of neuropeptides, such as calcitonin gene-related peptide and nitric oxide (NO), resulting in vasodilation and increased circulation locally
There seems to be a correspondence between the traditional acupuncture channels (“Meridians”) and the inter-muscular connective tissue (myofascial) planes. When a needle penetrates the skin, interstitial connective tissue fibers wind around the needle, affecting electrical conductivity along the whole myofascial kinematic chain.
Somatic Autonomic Reflex
Acupuncture stimulation of the skin improves the function of the segmentally related muscles, joints, visceral (internal) organs, blood vessels, and endocrine glands.
Studies have found that adenosine triphosphate (ATP) and transient receptor potential vanilloid (TRPV) are involved in acupuncture signaling pathways.
Functional MRI studies demonstrate point specific neurophysiological effects of acupuncture. Furthermore, acupuncture is believed to inhibit the accumulation of toxic proteins, modulate glucose metabolism, depress neuronal apoptosis (death), and exert a wide range of neuroprotective effects on the brain.
Tribute to Prof. Geoffrey Burnstock: his contribution to acupuncture
Neurotransmitters, such as beta-endorphins, serotonin, norepinephrine, dopamine, glutamate, orexin, and endocannabinoids, are thought to be involved in acupuncture action.
Imbalances in the autonomic nervous system have been linked to stress and disease. Acupuncture appears to upregulate parasympathetic nervous system, bringing relief from pain, anxiety, and insomnia.
The vagus (CN 10) nerve is accessible to acupuncture in the ears. Interestingly, significant portions of the Stomach and Spleen Meridians seem to follow the path of the vagus nerve. This phenomenon may explain the systemic immunoregulatory and anti-inflammatory effects of acupuncture.
Following acupuncture, adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH) is released from the pituitary gland, stimulating the production of anti-inflammatory corticosteroids by the adrenals. Moreover, by acting on the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis, acupuncture reduces pro-inflammatory cyclooxygenase-2 (COX-2) and prostaglandin E2 (PGE2) levels throughout the whole body.
Acupuncture treatments were associated with better gastrointestinal motility, improved gut flora, and enhanced intestinal barrier.
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