How does Acupuncture Cure Chronic Pain? – by Lindsay Rusk, R.Ac.

What is Acupuncture?

Acupuncture is an ancient method of healing, which involves the insertion of very thin, sterile, single-use needles into different areas of the body.

acupuncture-hand-1Acupuncture is a unique form  of natural healing, especially when it comes to treating chronic pain.  A skilled acupuncturist can effectively reduce chronic pain without having to put any needles into peoples sore spots.  It can get rid of neck pain or shoulder pain (or any other body pain) by using specific points on people hands/arms and feet/legs.

What?! This Seems Like Magic!!

It may seem like magic, especially when you are the one experiencing pain disappear almost instantly!  But, its not magic, there is biological reasoning behind the way acupuncture works.  An acupuncturist can eliminate, or substantially reduce pain using only distal points (acupuncture points nowhere near your sore spot), because all the nerves in the human body are mirrored with each other.  Our nervous system is essentially a hologram.  The nerves innervating the muscles in in your arms, hand, feet, legs, back, neck, abdomen, head everywhere!) all mirror and affect with each other.


Lets say you have chronic neck pain, which often leads to headaches at the base of your skull (the occiput).  I will use acupuncture points on your hands and feet, which will quickly subdue your headache, relax your tight neck muscles, and relieve your neck pain.  When I use acupuncture to stimulate certain muscles and nerves in your hands, that mirror the muscles and nerves in your neck, it tells your brain to send your natural “built in” pain killers to your neck and occiput. Voila! Pain gone, or substantially reduced!! Its almost too good to be true!

Does Acupuncture Actually Heal Chronic Pain, or Just Relieve It?

Yes, over time acupuncture will heal chronic pain.  When a body part is experiencing chronic pain, the brain thinks that muscle is injured or has been poisoned, so it “tells” that muscle to stay tight and constricted.  This is a survival mechanism, because your brain doesn’t want that poison spread through the body.  When the muscle is tight, the blood flow into and out of that muscle is greatly reduced.  Before we had emergency medical care, if we scraped our thigh on a sharp rock covered in some sort of neurotoxin, having that muscle stay constricted may have saved our life.

7753661_origThe more common story these days is someone injured their back (or other body part) 10 years ago, and now its healed, MRIs come up normal, but it still hurts like heck!  The brain hasn’t gotten the memo that your back has healed, and that there is no reason for the pain and tightness any longer.

Acupuncture gets that memo to the brain!  Acupuncture is excellent at breaking that neural pain pathway, but it may take a few treatments.  Usually, when I treat chronic pain, the acupuncture will kick the pain out for a certain amount of time, maybe 24 hours, maybe a few days, maybe a week.  But the pain often comes back.  This is when you come in again for another treatment.  The acupuncture keeps kicking the pain out, so that eventually it doesn’t come back.  After the pain has left, the brain realizes the muscle is not injured or poisoned, so it lets that muscle relax.  Once the tightness and constriction is gone, blood flow through that muscle increases, and with fresh blood flow comes nutrients, oxygen and white blood cells. Acupuncture heals!

Pic of Lindsay for wordpress blog

 Lindsay Is a Registered Acupuncturist, soon to be Functional Medicine Practitioner,  Health Investigator, Paleo Enthusiast, and Blogger.

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