First we should define what the physiological mechanism of pain. Basically this is the chain of physiological steps to develop pain and in almost all of these steps, acupuncture can work:
1 – Peripheral nociceptors – Transduction.
2 – Primary afferents – Transduction.
3 – Modulation and integration of nociceptive responses in the medullary dorsal horn.
4 – Transmission by ascending the spinomesencephalic tract.
5 – Integration of the response in higher centres.
6 – Descending encephalo-spinal pathways.
NOTE: this might sound too technical but good to know how pain works and how we can stop it. If you want to know more in detail each steps, please leave a comment and I will write about it in next posts.
Now let’s see how acupuncture can work on pain:
1- Needles stimulate peripheral nerve fibers, aggression, inflammation.
2 – Your body secretes pain inhibitors (endogenous analgesics) and anti-inflammatories.
3 – Enkephalins (peptide that serves as neurotransmitter in the brain) in the dorsal horn. Bind to opioid receptors and block transmission of opioid pain. In the dorsal horn, also serotonin, norepinephrine and adrenaline with depressant effect widespread at this level.
4 – Beta-endorphins in the hypothalamus, which depress the pain signal.
5 – Serotonin in the dorsal horn and brainstem, acting on the inhibitory system descending pain.
6 – Acupuncture modulates neural activity in the diencephalon, which influences the autonomic, endocrine and immune functions through the hypothalamus-pituitary- adrenal gland, regulating circadian activity of ACTH, vasopressin, and cortisol leading to HOMEOSTASIS.
6 – Acupuncture also improves the levels of stress and consequently the sleep pattern.
7 – Acupuncture acts on the limbic system, influencing certain mechanisms related to mental rest, regardless of where the puncture is.
8 – It also acts on thalamic integration, inhibiting pain signal through endorphins.
9 – Certain points correlate with certain areas of the brain. By stimulating these points with the needle, high potential signal is obtained in the corresponding somatosensory cortex area. From here, distal acupuncture works well.
10 – Acupuncture causes vascular changes due to the powerful effect on blood flow in the area to be treated and the whole system by improving the production of nitrous oxide which is an important molecule in chronic pain.
Therefore acupuncture basically has the following effects listed below:
- Acts on pain within seconds.
- It has an immediate and accumulative effect hence each session progressively relieves the pain sensation without going back to the initial state.
- Accelerates the repair of existing injuries by reducing normal recovery times.
- Improves organic functions by increasing blood flow.
- Reduces the stress level helping you to focus calmly.
- Regulates your sleep.
- Helps to regulate the hormonal balance.
Photo by Antonika Chanel