Many times acupuncture is not well understood because it is explained and supported by Chinese Medicine theory. It makes for an easier explanation to say that we move “Qi & Blood” without getting into the technical side of bio-medicine. Here is a quick overview of some possible mechanisms-of-action that occur when we needle.
Here are a few prevailing theories.
1. Acupuncture raises levels of triglycerides, specific hormones, prostaglandins, white blood counts, gamma globulins, opsonins, and overall anti-body levels. This is called the “Augmentation of Immunity” Theory.
2. The “Endorphin” Theory states that Acupuncture stimulates the secretions of endorphins in the brain and body (specifically Enkaphalins).
3. The “Neurotransmitter” Theory states that certain neurotransmitter levels (Seratonin and Noradrenaline) are affected by Acupuncture and Acupressure.
4. “Circulatory” Theory: this states that Acupuncture has the effect of constricting or dilating blood vessels in a regulating bi-phasic manner. This may be caused by the body’s release of Vasodilaters (such as Histamine), in response to Acupuncture.
5. One of the more popular theories is the “Gate Control” Theory. The perception of pain is controlled by a part of the nervous system which regulates the impulse, which will later be interpreted as pain. This part of the nervous system is called the “Gate.” If the gate is hit with too many impulses, it becomes overwhelmed, and it closes. This prevents some of the impulses from getting through. The first gates to close would be the ones that are the smallest. The nerve fibers that carry the impulses of pain are rather small nerve fibers called “C” fibers. These are the gates that close during Acupuncture.
In the related “Motor Gate” Theory, some forms of paralysis can be overcome by Acupuncture. This is done by reopening a “stuck” gate, which is connected to an Anterior Horn cell. The gate, when closed by a disease, stops motor impulses from reaching muscles. This theory was first stated by Professor Jayasuriya in 1977. In it he goes on to say:
“…one of the factors contributing to motor recovery is almost certainly the activation of spindle cells. They are stimulated by Gamma motor neurons. If Acupuncture stimulates the Gamma motor neurons, the discharge causes the contraction of Intrafusal Muscle fibers. This activates the Spindle cells, in the same way as muscle stretching. This will bring about muscle contraction.”
Let’s not forget about the nervous system and the sympathetic/para-sympathetic response “fight or flight.”
Or maybe it is the induction of micro-trauma that facilitates a healing response of the body.
There is also hormonal changes that come with acupuncture and the needling.
Or what about the therapeutic relationship of the patient and practitioner?
As you can see there are many explanations, so it is easy for us to put it under the umbrella of the “Qi” effect.