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How does it work?

I'm often asked in clinic how acupuncture works. I've utilized a variety of different responses over the years from, "acupuncture increases neuroplasticity," to, "acupuncture strengthens our proprioceptive neuropathways," and, "by stimulating C-fibers within the retinacular tissue, we are encouraging the release of endorphins and enkephalins." Now, while all of those statements are true, I haven't found them to be particularly helpful for the average human, because I'm using terms that sound intellectual, but don't hold any tangible meaning for the recipient.

Then one day I had a pediatric patient who was old enough to be curious about what the needles were actually doing. Finding a way to explain it to her simply, yet clearly was the path that led to my discovery of how to easily explain to everyone the way that acupuncture works... Here it is:

When, for instance, you get a paper cut - your brain feels that sensation and then a series of responses occur. Your immune system is activated; fresh circulation is sent to the area; your smart brain protects and calms you with feel-good compounds to moderate stress and help alleviate discomfort and pain. Then your body begins to heal and regenerate the tissue(s) where the micro-trauma occurred. That's exactly what we're doing with acupuncture, but in a much more sterile, controlled, and precise manner.

Thus, the needle (or the cup, the gua sha tool, the pressure of my finger[s], etc.) is our stimulus and the area of the body that is selected to receive the stimulus (i.e. "acupoint," pressure point, trigger point, or dermatome, etc.) is either locally related to the area of complaint or distally related via neural, vascular, and myofascial connections. And once we apply our stimulus to the targeted point(s) or area(s), that cascade of physiological responses occurs, because that is exactly what your beautiful body was so ingeniously designed to do!

So when people say things like, "I believe in acupuncture," or, "does acupuncture really work?!" ... I can't help but giggle inside, because acupuncture doesn't require belief and it obviously 'works,' because we're simply activating your body's innate healing functions and nothing more.

However, there is some subtlety that can be weaved into my response to those remarks... because like any therapy, belief in the efficacy of that therapy does increase the quality of the outcome! An example of this was observed in this study. Treatment results also depend upon the strength of each individual's physiology. If someone has a weak constitution, or eats poorly, or any number of other factors, then we can expect to have a weak or poor response to the treatments and altering the treatment plan or adding herbs and dietary/lifestyle guidance would most certainly need to be a significant part of the protocol.

Therefore, acupuncture is not as mysterious as some might initially assume. It is not like reiki, though some practitioners do lean into those types of practices - I am not one of those practitioners. Acupuncture has stood the test of time (thousands of years) because it is safe, minimally invasive (non-invasive alternatives like acupressure are also available) and holistic (we seek out & treat the root cause of your symptoms). Please reach out to me if you have any questions or are interested in receiving a tender, relaxing, and rejuvenating treatment (which is my specialty)!

<3, Molly T


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