Demystifying Acupuncture: Part 2 – Understanding the Science Behind How it Works
So How *does* Acupuncture Work?
That’s an excellent question – especially if you’re thinking about getting acupuncture. There are a lot of websites and gurus out there that say that acupuncture works by manipulating some sort of mysterious energy. That’s 100% not true. Both traditional and modern sources agree that acupuncture works by affecting the nervous system!
There are many types of acupuncture. Some of them focus on internal medicine – things like fertility, irritable bowel and that sort of thing. I’m going to focus on what I do, which is treating pain, injuries and improving sports performance.
So how does poking you with needles help with pain and athletic performance?
Many things can cause a muscle to be weak. Most of us think that if we’re weak, we just need to go to the gym more. While this is often true, there may be other causes for the weakness. Painful inputs to the nervous system – from things like injuries, arthritis, chronic stress (which promotes prostaglandin production – hence inflammation and neural sensitization), or even over training can cause muscles to become weak because of how nerve signals are processed in the spine.
The skinny is that incoming pain signals can basically shut down the outgoing signals that tell a muscle to contract. And when a muscle is weak for any reason, the joint or joints that the muscle works don’t move properly. Over time, this can cause pain or further injury.
Now for the good news. For most people, this type of muscular weakness can be treated within a few treatments. Orthopedic acupuncture has been shown to “neuromodulate” – that is, to affect how the nerves fire. This helps restore the muscle’s normal ability to squeeze and relax.
Treating Muscle Imbalances
Muscles move joints. Think about your elbow. You have muscles on the back of your arm that straighten your elbow, and others on the front of your arm that bend your elbow. Normally, the muscles that work on a joint should work about the same amount. This allows for normal, pain-free movement.
Sometimes, this pull isn’t balanced. Many things can cause this. It could happen because we use one set of muscles more than the other. For instance, a pitcher uses the muscles that drive his arm forward more than he uses the ones that pull it backward. The same thing can happen if you work at a desk all day – leaning forward with arms outstretched for 8 hours at a time.
Like I mentioned before, injuries or over training can cause muscles to shut down. Researcher Vladmir Janda, M.D. also figured out that here are also some muscles that have a natural tendency to be too tight or too loose. Regardless of the cause, muscle imbalances can lead to pain and reduced athletic performance.
Sometimes, a group of muscles have to work together to perform a functional movement. This is called a “sling.” A good example of this is the serape affect – the muscles that stabilize your shoulder blade, your abdominal obliques and your adductors (on the other side) have to work together in order to wind up then throw a ball. If one muscle in the sling is weak, there is a good chance that the others won’t work properly either.
The good news is that orthopedic acupuncture can help. Like I mentioned above, Orthopedic acupuncture has been shown to affect how the nerves that go to muscles fire. This helps restore the muscle’s normal ability to squeeze and relax. This usually will affect other, functionally-related muscles too!
The “Pain-Inflammation-Pain” Cycle
My mentor, Dr. Anthony Lombardi, talks about the pain-inflammation-pain cycle. What he’s talking about is “neurogenic inflammation.” When certain nerves are irritated in a way that produces pain, they can release inflammatory chemicals like CGRP, Bradykinin, and Neurokinins A & B. These chemicals cause a bunch of things to happen. The most obvious is… you guessed it… MORE PAIN. MORE INFLAMMATION. And the cycle continues.
The GOOD NEWS is that acupuncture and dry needling have been shown to reduce the release of these pain-causing chemicals and cause the release of pain killing chemicals. This breaks the pain-inflammation-pain cycle and helps get your body on the path to healing and pain-free movement.
So What about Trigger Points?
Trigger points are sore spots in tight bands in your muscles. Normally, they shouldn’t be there. Injury, infections, stress, over training and about a hundred other things can cause them to form. They’re different from regular tight muscles. Trigger points are basically little inflammation factories. What’s even weirder, trigger points can cause pain and other symptoms in totally different parts of the body – away from where the real problem is.
The good news is that Dry Needling Acupuncture quickly relaxes these tight bands. Even more importantly, it has been shown to quickly reduce the production of inflammatory chemicals. This relieves pain and restores function.
So What’s My Next Step?
If you’re suffering from chronic pain that no one has been able to figure out or have weakness, pain or limited mobility that’s getting in the way of doing what you love, then look no further! Give us a call at 315-935-5700! We’ll do a thorough physical exam to get to the bottom of what’s going on. Next, we’ll come up with a treatment plan – individualized specifically for YOU – to get you back on the road to health and doing what you LOVE!