Acupuncture How Does it Work?

21 12 2011

Explore and Live in a World Without Pain

About 5 years ago I sought acupuncture for severe low back pain.

And I only did so after all other Western medicines had failed to significantly alleviate my daily back pain.  For me, it is true that combinations of physical therapy, diet, body weight maintenance, pharmaceuticals and exercise do help.  But when you have substantial physical and physiological damage in bone and soft tissue which includes tendons, ligaments and muscle, you’ll always feel a certain amount of acute to varying chronic pain.  For those that go under the knife to correct and alleviate pain, you are also at risk of creating more pain.  Each one of us must weigh the benefit to risk ratio of surgery vs. quality living and pain management.  And in the best case surgical scenarios, significant pain relief can be experienced but not guaranteed.

Because of my unique pain story, I prefer to work around the pain trigger points through daily exercise while trying different types of therapeutic pain management programs as opposed to more surgery.  As I stated, there is no guarantee that surgery will provide a pain free experience.  With that being said, I ventured into acupuncture.  At that point in my life I would have tried any type of therapeutic pain modality to relieve my pain whether I believed in it or not.  And at that time acupuncture was something I didn’t have a lot of faith in, but I was running short of options to relieve my low back pain.  Also, at the time, surgery was too risky for me because the probability of a worst case scenario was great.

My thoughts on acupuncture and to this day, I’m not sure how it really works, but I’ve mentally focused on electrical energy flowing throughout my body to assist in the healing power.  I do know our bodies have this “Chi” energy force that travels throughout our neurological highways where energy flow becomes blocked through illness, disease and injury which creates pain.  And when acupuncture needles are inserted at various points along these energy Chi meridian pathways: energy flow that was once blocked can become unblocked.  And if these highways become unblocked your pain can be substantially alleviated.  In various cultures this energy is not only called, or known as Chi, this life energy is also known as Prana, life force, Spirit, subtle and vital energy to name a few.

For me personally, acupuncture provides pain alleviation.  I can only explain it like this, I think of my body as an electrical circuit that has shorted somewhere and is giving me pain.  I know if I can remove the shorted circuit through another parallel neurological highway I can turn off much of the pain that would otherwise be signaled back to my brain.  If you’ve had injury, the damage is still there, however, the pain signal can be turned off.

This is easy for me to visualize through my mind’s eye.  Since I have an electrical background and physiological knowledge of the body these two things appear to allow my mind to accept this healing process; regardless of whether medical science has figured out a way to prove this in trial studies.  Which to date, they have not.

Many scientists consider acupuncture a pseudoscience because it cannot be proven through Western medical scientific trial the benefit of the needles, preparatory relaxation-meditation vs. variations of protocol needle insert techniques etc.   Also under what conditions it works, or what causes it to work for some but not others.  I can completely understand the difficulty of creating a blind study where test patients wouldn’t know whether a needle was sticking them for example, while others in the study were actually stuck in order to understand the significance of the skin penetration vs. no penetration and pain alleviation benefit.

I believe if you believe something is possible, through the psychosomatic (mind/body) healing relationship, the portion of the brain that allows healing through belief and visualization also allows healing of the body through the many electrical meridian circuits throughout the body.   Understanding this relationship allows those like I to channel acupuncture needle point connections to flow energy one way while diverting it from signaling pain back to the brain.

I will tell you there are different techniques used by acupuncturists when getting stuck with these tiny micro-thin needles.  Five years ago, I experienced two different aggressive styles of Chinese acupuncture that when these needles were manipulated into my low back caused great pain when setting the needles.  Thereafter, electrical current was added through wire leads with electrical source equipment sending pulsating electrical stimulation.  Although low voltage electricity is added within some therapy sessions, this is not always the case or necessary for acupuncture to work.

When I first experienced acupuncture, the hard manipulative needle insertion technique although painful seemed to turn-off a lot of the severe pain at the time.  After 10 sessions I called it good.  And because of the tenth session where a needle hit a sensitive nerve in my low back causing me to jolt, which was followed by a back spasm.  I didn’t go back after that.  This is because I hyper extended my low back while lying face down on the table.  Man, did that hurt; I was sweating bullets while that needle was manipulated into place.  I did finish that therapy session.

Thereafter and rightfully so, I had fear of going back to an acupuncturist and didn’t ask for another referral.  However, years later with a bit more education under my belt, I sought out a soft Chinese style acupuncturist that focused on various modalities prior to needle insertion.  Sensitive areas of the body to touch do much better with a soft style preparation acupuncturist prior to needle insertion.  Very light massage, relaxation and suction cup appearing devices to increase blood circulation allow for easy insertion without needle manipulation in hyper-sensitive painful areas using a shallow needle insertion technique.  Thereafter electro stimulation to the needles is applied in some sessions while not others.  This technique works well for me to remove the severe pain.

You ask why I went back after a jolt that hurt my back 5 years ago.  Because, even after that experience, I knew I received a pain relief benefit, before and after the jolt.  The years following that session, I knew I received significant pain relief.  To this day, my back is more pain free than had I not received any acupuncture.  Yet when you look at my x-rays and MRI’s, the injury sites throughout my back continue to worsen.  I don’t want the surgery if I can continue to manage the pain with various pain relief techniques.  So I figured, why not give it another shot.  Life must continue on, so I look for therapy that works in order to avoid surgery, so I can stay productive.

As of recent, I’ve gone through another series of acupuncture using the shallow needle penetration with suction cups, and electrical stimulation to increase blood flow after the needles are set to include meditation prior to and during the session.  The sharp unbearable radiating pain in my neck is gone.  However, the chronic achy dull arthritic pain is always present throughout my back which I can manage.  For me this is significant pain relief for which I’m thankful my health insurance pays.

I’ve read a few blogger sites on the benefits/to no benefits of using acupuncture.  The feelings on acupuncture are mixed throughout the medical and general community.  It’s considered by many that believe in Eastern medicine modalities as a valued natural science that can heal and alleviate pain and cure disease.  To Western medicine practitioners, many professionals and lay persons believe at best acupuncture is a pseudoscience that’s falls into categories more like magic and faith healing.

Instead of trying to convince you that acupuncture works, I think it is best to leave you with the following insight.  Like Pranic healing (link listed below), there is much our modern medical science does not understand and has no way to prove through clinical trials how life “Chi” energy actually heals and alleviates pain.  But to make a comparison of the misunderstood not too long ago, one must simply recall the thought process, “it was impossible for man to fly, let alone sore through space and land on the moon.”  Or, until Penicillin as an effective antibiotic was discovered; many with serious disease through infection were doomed to die with no hope of a cure.  During the times, these beliefs could think no other way with any solution that would ever change the outcome until science proved otherwise many years later.

I believe there is much in the world science does not understand about the human mind and body.  Let me give you one more relevant example.  It has long been said people on earth only use 10% of their brains capacity.   This too is controversial due to the “natural selection” concept.  Since the brain tissue has metabolically evolved throughout time, and to lose 90% of capacity would have catastrophic consequences on the human regulation of the body is the controversy in dispelling the 10% brain capacity use.

So maybe we are using a 100% of metabolic brain function, but maybe not 100% healing function within another part of the brain.  Is this line of reasoning possible?  Of course it is.  But then again, how do you prove this scientifically?  As of to date, science can’t.  So in relating this line of reasoning to the naysayer’s; acupuncture is just as valid for those that believe it works, so it works!  Just because a scientific relative blind study to prove it works has not been accomplished to date, does not mean it doesn’t work.  Science to date does not have the knowledge to empirically prove it.

Let’s assume our brains have room to evolve to make use of our Chi energy, even though science cannot tell you how it works for sure.  So if we dare to think there is room for evolving of the brain-body connection, we could think the following:  if science does not know how the healing Chi energy works using needles, there is no way to test each of our healing brain-body connections.  Each one of us that experiences a pain relief benefit may use a different part of the brain, brain function, or cognitive skill connection to the body when the needles are inserted, which activate the healing life force connection.  This would explain why it works for some and not others.  Others may be more or less in touch with this part of the healing brain-body connection.  I’m not sure how science would test these variables in a blind study.  Here lies the empirical sample test dilemma in proving the healing benefits connection using acupuncture.

So I’d say to you, if you have severe pain and have exhausted Western medicine resources, regardless of the negative opinion about acupuncture, what have you got to lose?  What doesn’t work for others may work for you?  You may have the ability to unlock a Chi force that is hidden within 90% of an untapped brain function that others like I are able to unlock.  And consider this, there must be some validity to it because many HMO practitioners refer pain patients to acupuncturists whether they completely believe in it or not.  And many health insurers cover the cost!  So there must be something to it.

I know surgery and/or chiropractics is not the answer for “my” pain relief without causing further damage to my weight bearing structure.  I’ve been able to avoid much of the pain pitfalls that these two practices, had I accepted the referrals and treatments may have worsened my pain story.  The key is, get more than one, or two opinions before you do something radical if you have a choice.  You cannot reverse damage caused through over manipulation of bone, tendon and ligaments, and a surgery that went bad.

I believe one day science will prove through relative and valid empirical trials how and why acupuncture works for many patients.  But like Einstein’s Theory of Relativity “Time was no longer uniform and absolute.” Physics could no longer be understood as space by itself, hence space and time was also dependant on velocity.  Until this time Isaac Newton’s physics and astronomy stood as a 200-year-old theory of mechanics.  So you see through time man evolves in many different depths of knowledge and understanding within the world we live, as well as the bodies we live in.

Listed below, I’ve left some links that further explain how acupuncture and Pranic healing may help you to alleviate your pain by activating a part of your brain that to date is unexplained scientifically, but for many this healing practice works.

If you want to try acupuncture and your primary physician does not believe in it, and won’t refer you, or it’s not covered in your health insurance program, there are 3 things you can do.  During your employer annual health insurance selections pick a provider or policy that covers acupuncture within its listed services.  Or, if you have coverage for this service, but your referring physician does not believe in acupuncture and won’t refer you, request a new primary care physician.  Or request from your current primary care physician to be referred to a physiatrist.  Physiatrists are pain management specialists with an arsenal of pain modality resources for which one, if covered by your HMO will refer you to an acupuncturist if you’re willing to give it a try.

References:

Woodard, Marc.  Why a Physiatrist Offers the Best Rehabilitative Course.  Mirror Athlete’s Fitness Secrets!  June 23, 2011. http://mirrorathlete.com/blog/2011/06/23/why-a-physiatrist-offers-the-best-rehabilitative-course/

Craig, Gary.  Acupuncture Meridians Pathways of Chi Energy.  Healing with EFT (Emotional Freedom Techniques.  Website: http://www.healing-with-eft.com/acupuncture-meridians.html

Woodard, Marc.  What is Pranic Healing and Does it Work?  Mirror Athlete’s Fitness Secrets! July 23, 2010. http://mirrorathlete.com/blog/2010/07/23/what-is-pranic-healing-and-does-it-work/

Novella, Steven.  Does Acupuncture Work or Not?  Neurologica blog.  Sep 25, 2007.http://theness.com/neurologicablog/index.php/does-acupuncture-work-or-not/

Woodamarc.  “Pain Depression Origins.” HubPages.  http://woodamarc.hubpages.com/hub/Pain-Depression-Origins

Physiotherapy Adelaide Site.  How Does Acupuncture Work?  Copyright 2011. http://www.howdoesacupuncturework.com/

Do We Use all of our Brain Power?  Google answer site. http://answers.google.com/answers/threadview/id/751682.html

Marc T. Woodard, MBA, BS Exercise Science, USA Medical Services Officer, CPT, RET. 2011 Copyright, All rights reserved, Mirror Athlete Publishing @: http://www.mirrorathlete.com,  Sign up for your Free eNewsletter.

 


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