"But how, mommy, how?" This is a question I hear at home a lot. Closely followed by "but why, mommy, why??" I'm going to answer the how here. As in, how, mommy, how does acupuncture work?
I graduated acupuncture school in 2007, so this is my 13th year of practice. My understanding as to how acupuncture works exactly has evolved over those years. In school we learned that energy, qi, moves in pathways around the body on highways called meridians. If qi flows the wrong way, gets constricted or blocked this leads to symptoms and disease. Acupuncture gets the qi flowing correctly and in adequate amounts in the right direction. While this is an accurate explanation from an acupuncture textbook standpoint, I don't think it really gets to what's happening in the human body.
In starting my 13th year of practice I have come to understand that acupuncture works in two main ways. The first way that acupuncture works is by shutting off the stress response in the body and the second is in the points affecting specific areas of the body through mirroring and fractals.
When humans are under stress there is a physiological response in the body. Stress is of course a broad term and it affects people in varying degrees. Stress can come from trauma, dealing with chronic health problems, financial, legal, family, job problems. All kinds of problems, even being rushed, driving in traffic, having a disagreement with someone. Most people have stress. When under stress, the human body goes into "fight-or-flight" mode which is a series of physiological changes driven by hormones in the body. Heart rate increases, blood rushes to the muscles, pupils dilate - to prepare you for an acute survival situation. Highly useful when you need to save your own life, not so useful long term. People can get stuck in fight or flight mode when levels of stress hormones are high in their bodies due to increased stress.
Acupuncture shuts off that stress response, switching the body into "rest and digest" mode. This is when the body is relaxed, heart rate slows, muscles relax and the digestive system functions normally again. This is also when the body heals itself, which primarily happens when a person is sleeping. Sleep is critical to the healing process in the body. This also explains why many people fall asleep during acupuncture treatment.
Besides symptom relief, another common thing people notice as a result of long term acupuncture treatment is that they get perspective. They are able to look at situations and problems in their lives without the same emotional entanglement. They are able to get done what they need to get done in an easier way. When you aren't frantic and feeling crazed you make better decisions. You make calmer decisions. Somehow things don't seem as bad and therefore they aren't as bad. There is hope. A sense that somehow, all of this is going to work out. You got this! This is what I believe is the true gem of what acupuncture does.
Sometimes when people initially get treatment its hard for them to sit still and do nothing. That is ok. Just stick with it! Keep coming back! I plan to address this in a future blog post.
The second way that acupuncture works is by the individual points affecting specific areas of the body through mirroring and fractals (continuously repeating patterns). This explains how I can treat back pain all day long and never stick a needle in someone's back. Everything in our bodies is all connected. There are continuously repeating patterns all over the body. The entire body can be treated from the ear, for example, just picture an upside down baby on top of the ear and you have a rough idea of where body parts are located. You can treat wrist pain for example by using points around the elbow (mirror the arm on top of itself) or ankle (the wrist of the leg). Some points address the opposite side of the body, others on the same side. Some points treat parts of the body everywhere- for example there is a point on the knee which treats tendons, everywhere in the body. I'll be needling that point on the knee to help someone with tendonitis located anywhere in their body. There are also specific points that alleviate anxiety, allergies, upset stomach and headaches. (Unsure what acupuncture can help with?)
Think of acupuncture as a part of your routine to keep your life going optimally. It's a low -tech, inexpensive and safe tool in the box to maximize quality of life. We have our sliding scale and flexible scheduling system to make getting acupuncture as easy as possible.
Meaghan Massella, M.Ac, L.Ac, Dipl. Ac (NCCAOM) is an acupuncturist, business owner and mother of 2.