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How Does Acupuncture Relieve Pain? Connecting the Dots

October 30, 2023

Acupuncture Q & A

What Is Acupuncture Treatment?

Acupuncture is a type of treatment that originated in China more than 3,000 years ago. Acupuncturists use extremely slim needles, placing them in key areas on the body to alleviate pain in a natural way. The needles create a balance in the body’s energy, which allows the body to return to its optimal pain-free state.

There are several types of acupuncture. In moxibustion, moxa taken from dried mugwort warms key areas and helps with smooth qi energy flow. In auricular acupuncture, points on the outer ear are stimulated for healing. In cupping therapy, suction is used to help stimulate blood flow and promote healing.

Is there a secret to alleviating pain that doesn't involve pills?

As it turns out, the solution may be as simple as a few needles.Long before painkillers came into being, acupuncture tapped into the body's natural pain relief abilities, a secret that modern medicine is only now unraveling. 

But how can simply inserting needles into a few specific points in your body rival the powerful effects of prescription painkillers?

In this comprehensive guide, you’ll discover how acupuncture relieves pain and provides lasting relief by tapping into your body’s innate healing abilities.

How Acupuncture Disrupts Pain Signals Locally

When an acupuncture needle enters your skin, it kickstarts natural pain relief processes around the needle site. 

But how does it achieve the same?

The needle physically disturbs pain-sensing nerves in the area, prompting them to release natural painkilling chemicals.

It's like pressing a biological ‘mute button’ that temporarily mutes the exaggerated pain signals originating from irritated nerves near the needle.

The needle also increases blood flow, bringing fresh oxygen and whisking away inflammatory chemicals that make nerves overreact. 

Let's break it down step-by-step:

  • The needle stimulates local pain nerves to discharge natural compounds. These prevent amplified pain signaling.
  • It disrupts the electrical balance within nerves, blocking sharp pain signals from traveling onward.
  • The increased blood flow removes inflammatory chemicals that make nerves overly sensitive and reactive, calming them down.
  • The improved oxygen supply further reduces aching triggered by low oxygen levels.

In essence, the needles mute shrieking pain signals at the source before they can travel further. Acupuncture needles act like roadblocks, slowing down the pain-signaling traffic leaving the area.

The effects are temporary but provide natural localized relief by leveraging the body's innate healing abilities.

How Acupuncture Influences the Central Nervous System

How Does Acupuncture Relieve Pain

When an acupuncture needle enters specific points on the body, it activates sensory nerves under the skin that send signals up to the brain.

These signals reach the hypothalamus, the control center that makes natural pain-relieving chemicals and regulates pain perception.

The hypothalamus responds by releasing endorphins, morphine-like neurotransmitters that intercept pain signals traveling up the spinal cord to the brain. Like a security team, the endorphins surround and block pain signals from going further.

Acupuncture also prompts the hypothalamus to optimize levels of key chemicals like serotonin that shape our perception of pain. It helps the brain tune its internal environment to feel less pain overall.

Additionally, acupuncture influences limbic system regions involved in processing emotions, memories, and thought patterns around pain. It exerts cognitive control over the pain experience.

It further helps balance the nervous system branches managing the stress response versus the relaxation response. An overactive stress response amplifies pain signaling - acupuncture helps normalize these signals.

In summary, acupuncture leverages higher brain centers to beneficially reshape how we perceive and emotionally process pain. It recalibrates the nervous system to respond more appropriately to sensations of hurt.

How Acupuncture Addresses Trigger Points?

For conditions like sciatica or chronic headaches, acupuncture aims for trigger points - tiny tense knots deep in muscles that radiate pain outward.

Imagine trigger points like jammed knots in a necklace chain that can’t glide smoothly. They form from overloaded, tight tissue with poor blood flow.

These angry, cramped spots generate excessive pain signals you feel radiating in larger areas - called referred pain. It’s like an irritated beehive stuck in the muscle fibers, buzzing signals outwards.

Needling prompts the release of natural painkillers like endorphins to calm the amplified signals sent to your nervous system.

It does this by quietening down the overly excited pain nerves bunched together within the tensed-up muscle fibers comprising the knot.

Many pain nerves clustered in the contracted muscle fibers fire rapid pain signals. Needling disrupts this excessive electrical signaling from the irritated nerves, helping reset them.

At Complete Wellness, our licensed acupuncturists use these trigger point techniques to provide referred pain relief.

The Mild Pain Response During Acupuncture Treatment

does acupuncture relieve pain

Although acupuncture may briefly sting when the needle first enters your skin, this minor irritation can actually boost the pain-relieving benefits.

The temporary inflammation from needle insertion causes a localized release of natural substances like endorphins and compounds that dilate blood vessels.

Each of these released compounds plays a different role in numbing pain - blocking signals, improving circulation, and reducing irritation.

Together, they act like natural anesthetics that calm local pain nerves and substantially reduce their signaling. This provides lasting relief around the site.

So while piercing the skin may initially cause slight discomfort, it activates helpful processes that reduce pain sensitivity and soothe nerves, bringing lasting comfort.

Properly performed acupuncture should not cause lingering pain - only temporary soreness that kickstarts natural pain-relieving effects.

Skilled acupuncturists, like those at Complete Wellness, aim to make treatments as comfortable as possible.

Our Thoughts on Acupuncture as a Painkiller

In summary, acupuncture works by tapping into your body's own natural pain relief mechanisms in several ways:

  • It increases blood flow and releases helpful signaling molecules at the needle site to temporarily calm local pain nerves.
  • It prompts your central nervous system to release natural chemicals that suppress pain signal transmission and perception.
  • It interrupts knots and trigger points that generate and radiate pain signals throughout the body.
  • It beneficially alters the communication between brain structures that influence emotions and thoughts linked to feeling pain.
  • It regulates your autonomic nervous system to achieve balanced, optimal function so your nerves are less reactive and sensitive to pain.

In other words, acupuncture takes advantage of your body's built-in abilities to safely relieve both acute and chronic pain without drugs or surgery.

At Complete Wellness, our licensed acupuncturists offer customized acupuncture treatments tailored to your unique pain profile and health needs. 

Our holistic approach combines acupuncture with physical therapy, massage, nutrition plans, and stress reduction techniques for comprehensive mind/body pain relief and wellness.

If you want to explore safe, natural, and lasting pain relief, book an appointment at Complete Wellness today. 

Our compassionate acupuncture specialists will design a treatment plan using these proven techniques to help alleviate your pain and restore comfort and function.

Frequently Asked Questions

What are the main natural chemicals involved in acupuncture pain relief?

The main natural pain relievers involved include endorphins, the body’s morphine, along with feel-good chemicals like serotonin and relaxing neurotransmitters like GABA.

Does needle placement matter for how acupuncture relieves pain?

Yes, placement matters greatly. Certain points activate nerve pathways and release natural painkillers more effectively based on the Qi flow of acupuncture.

Can acupuncture's pain-relieving benefits increase over time?

Yes, acupuncture's pain-relieving benefits can accumulate over the course of treatments as it gives a cumulative boost to your nervous system’s natural pain-blocking abilities each time.

Why doesn't acupuncture relieve pain for some people?

It may be due to incorrect needle placement or depth which fails to properly activate natural pain relief. Differences in brain chemistry can also affect pain relief response.

Is acupuncture pain relief immediate or delayed?

Pain relief onset varies. Some feel immediate relief while others experience a delayed response after a few hours or treatments as cumulative effects build.

Can acupuncture also reduce emotional pain and anxiety?

Yes, by calming hyperactivity in emotion-regulating brain areas, acupuncture can lessen anxiety and induce your body's relaxation response.

How long do the pain-relieving effects last?

Duration depends on the condition. Acute pain relief can last hours to days while chronic relief can persist for months with maintenance.

Complete wellness

Medically reviewed by Complete Wellness on Feb 16, 2024

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