Patients often ask me, what does acupuncture do? It’s a great question. Acupuncture has three main effects that can be categorized as: Local, Segmental & Systemic. “Local effects” are the benefits from the immediate area in which the needles are placed. This includes local vasodilation with the reciprocal increase of blood flow which aids in healing injuries. Local acupuncture also takes advantage of the body’s innate analgesic, or pain-killing, abilities by increasing the local release of opioid peptides such as enkephalins & endorphins which decrease pain.
“Segmental effects” are a bit more involved as they take advantage of the body’s fastest communication system, the nervous system. Common symptoms such as muscle spasms, muscle weakness, hypersensitivity, numbness, and pain can be the result of various states of inaccuracy or dysfunction of electrical transmission in specific parts of the peripheral nervous system. Acupuncture has a regulating effect on the peripheral nervous system, which means that when it comes to pain and other common symptoms, acupuncture can either alleviate the cause or modulate the way your nervous system contributes to the problem. Either way, the result is the elimination of the pain or the reduction of symptoms.
“Systemic effects” are associated with the regulation of sympathetic and parasympathetic function in the body as a whole. The sympathetic nervous system governs your “fight or flight” response; while the parasympathetic leads the “rest & digest” function. When your sympathetic system is overactive, it is possible to experience several different symptoms including anxiety, stress, insomnia and digestive problems. Acupuncture has the ability to balance the function of the sympathetic system in order to bring it closer to normal function. This results in alleviation of either a contributing component of the problem or the main cause itself.
Used together, the local, segmental and systemic effects of acupuncture are effective at improving symptoms and eliminating the causes of many medical issues.