How Does Acupuncture Really Work?

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Acupuncture has been around for thousands of years – The earliest recorded use of acupuncture being used actually dates back to 3200BC, where acupuncture point scars relating to arthritis were found on an iceman, which, upon analysis, he was found to have! But for years now, western medicine hasn’t been sure where to place this ancient healing technique or how to explain it.

 

Luckily there have been some curious people diving into this topic who have been able to shed some light on how this ancient and effective medicine works through a western science lens,.

A recent journal article  reported on something called the interstitium. This is the name for fluid filled, collagen rich spaces that run all over your body, in and between tissues. They run between the fascia or fascial lines which basically contain and compartmentalize, well, everything!

And just to put the size of this interstitium into perspective: the skin is considered to be the largest organ in the body compromising about 16% of your body mass. This interstitium is estimated to take up about 20% of your body volume!  

This invisible web of energy connects all the different parts of the body in order to grow, heal and function effectively. And it is through these rich fluid filled spaces, that cells communicate, transport information and, as the science evolves, potentially explain how things like cancer spread.

In Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) we call these lines ‘channels’ or Meridians, and they are the foundation of how Acupuncture works.

Fascia connects and surrounds absolutely everything in the body, while maintaining a completely free pathway between its layers. These layers or pathways (the interstitium where this fluid and space exists in the body) have actually been used in western medicine for quite awhile now. Surgeons use these lines to offer keyhole surgeries as they can move efficiently and effectively through the body to get where they need to go without disrupting surrounding tissue. Brain surgeons use them to get to the brain, heart surgeons to the heart.

In Chinese Medicine, we call theses spaces Meridians and we use them to affect different parts of the body by inserting very thin sterile needles into specific points along these channels. For example we can access the heart system by treating areas on the wrist and forearm, through the facial lines or Meridians that run up the arm to the heart. It’s a very effective and non-invasive way to treat and help heal the body.

The lymphatic system (comprised of the fluid which travels through these lines), has lymph nodes at the end of each fascial compartment. These are used to filter this lymph fluid. Acupuncture points are found at this juncture too. The concentration of rich lymph with easily conducts the electrical charge and the highly charged energy centres, means manipulation of points here is more powerful than other places in the body.

The way the cells direct and communicate with each other is via chemical signals. Modern science calls these signaling molecules morphogens, and these morphogens act directly on cells to produce specific cellular response. These signals require or include a spark of energy or charge which allows these signals to move along the channels and communicate with other cells and parts of the body.

The principle ingredient in the fascia and this rich interstitial fluid is collagen. Collagen has the ability to conduct as well as generate electricity very well. This makes it incredibly easy for the ‘message’ to be sent up the line. (And explains why collagen is so essential to our well-being!)

This electrical charge starts at conception and an absence of this energy means death. It’s basically the spark of life. In Chinese Medicine, we call this spark Qi (pronounced Chee). It is essentially electricity with biological information or smart energy.

Some of the most used and strongest acupuncture points are in the hands/fingers and feet/toes which is where every acupuncture channel or meridian starts or finishes. This is because the ‘charge’ or QI is very concentrated or strong in these areas and has the most potential to heal.

The fluid in these fascial planes, are rich in ions and an excellent conductor of electricity. When we are healthy, they are free of any obstructions which makes flow in these channels easy. When we are ill or in pain, this space or these channels get compromised or blocked. Where there is a blockage, cells do not flow or communicate as well and the body starts to show signs or symptoms.

When they are blocked, things can’t get through. This is where dis-ease sets in. The body usually sends a sign when something is off or blocked. Pain or discomfort is the body’s way of letting us know something needs attention.

Energy disturbance is the root of all diseases. When something is wrong with this flow of energy, our nervous system brings us a message (pain, discomfort, dis-ease). This happens well before any physical or long term damage has occurred.

Pain is simply the messenger, not the problem. If we simply medicate to make the pain go away, we’re missing the problem – and just shooting the messenger!

This is why in Traditional Chinese Medicine, we are able to look at every little ache, pain, sign and symptom and use that to dictate treatment. Our body is talking and when we listen, and use subtle and gentle methods like acupuncture to clear up energy flow or blockages, our body can get back to balance and we remain healthy. When we push signs away and cease to listen, the message just gets louder.

This is a very interesting time as modern day medicine starts to explore this more. But in the meantime, we still have a millennial old medical system that harnesses this system of healing: Using the subtle and inherent wisdom of the body to bring balance back, heal and prevent disease.

Whether we call it mophogens, electrical currents running in interstitial space, or Meridian channels and acupuncture source points as we say in TCM, the message is clear: Our body is wise and sending out messages every day. When we listen and work to unblock these channels and keep them clear and open, profound health and healing can occur. And isn’t that what we all want?

This fantastic article was written by Angela Warburton, a Traditional Chinese Medicine practitioner, speaker, writer, and teacher. We encourage you to check out her website here,  and follow her on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram!

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