“How does acupuncture work?” is a question most of my patients ask me, and a question I set out to answer when I began my studies in Chinese medicine. Acupuncture seems to stimulate the vagus nerve, encouraging parasympathetic nervous system activation – the “rest and digest” response, a state in which repair, relaxation and healing can occur. In other words, it balances the nervous system and takes us out of stress and into relaxation and homeostasis.
New research is discovering that acupuncture can promote the release of feel-good endorphins, which can explain the feeling of being “reset” and grounded that my patients describe as that special post-acupuncture glow!
If you want a more traditional answer, acupuncture points are located on channels or areas of the body that correspond to different nerve innervation and fascia pathways. Inserting hair-thin needles at specific points on the body is said to improve the circulation of blood, lymph and energy to these areas, which stimulates healing. This concept was understood by the ancient Chinese thousands of years ago as promoting the flow of “qi” or energy, which is essential to activate the body’s natural healing processes, and restoring balance.
In an acupuncture treatment, these fine, single-use needles are gently inserted into points on the body – often on the arms, legs, abdomen and back. My patients are surprised at how painless acupuncture can be.
After a session with me, patients feel empowered, with the strategies they need to address their health, and potent herbal medicines to work from the inside out. They also feel relaxed and rejuvenated, or “reset” and ready to face the world again.
Acupuncture is generally painless, as the needles are very fine – most people feel some warmth, heaviness or a slight radiating sensation, followed by a feeling of relaxation while the needles are retained for 20 minutes. The course of therapy can vary, from one to two sessions for a new acute condition, regular weekly or fortnightly sessions while a chronic issue is resolved, to monthly maintenance or preventative care.
Other therapies can involve moxibustion, in which penetrating heat from a burning Chinese herb is used to warm acupoints to tonify or promote the flow of qi, or cupping, the application of warmed glass cups to certain areas of the body (typically the back) to increase circulation, release pain or blockages and clear toxins.
Simple but potent lifestyle changes, including diet, exercise, and stress-management techniques, will be discussed, allowing you to take charge of your own wellbeing, and maintain good health.