HOW DOES ACUPUNCTURE WORK?
By Elizabeth Rowan, DSOM, LAc
We’re in the midst of a remarkable medical renaissance. Recent discoveries are redefining our understanding of the human body and shedding light on the mysterious effects of acupuncture. Modern surgeons have been investigating the living body with new imaging equipment. They’re exploring seemingly mysterious structures that collapse after death. One such structure, which has been called a new organ, is now known as the interstitium. This is a fluid-filled connective tissue matrix found beneath the skin and surrounding organs and blood vessels. It plays a role in conducting electrical signals as the cells move and stretch. Although there is a controversy about whether or not this constitutes an actual organ, the structure does indeed exist and scientists are working to understand it.
The interstitium was well known to ancient Chinese doctors. Classical medical texts documented an intricately detailed model of the body including physical structures, flow of fluids and energy, and functional relationships of all the organs. This subtle structure, called San Jiao, is one of the 12 primary organ systems, and it is keys to understanding how acupuncture works. The interstitium/San Jiao circulates living fluid through the body and transports nutrients, debris, immune cells, and electrical signals. These electrical signals are particularly important for our conversation.
When acupuncture needles are inserted and gently vibrated, the movement propagates a series of signals which travel through the body via the interstitium and connective tissue. The impulse spreads into neighboring fibers until eventually it disperses throughout the body. As the impulse is dispersed, the body responds in predictable ways according to primary communication pathways mapped two thousand years ago. Some people are sensitive enough to feel this while receiving acupuncture. It is common for people without knowledge of acupuncture channels to accurately describe channel pathways as they notice sensations.
This vibration also loosens stuck tissue, eases movement, stimulates local cellular repair, and calms the nervous system. When fascia is injured, the liquid component gets thick and sticky. This results in reduced nutrient delivery into cells and impaired waste removal. All the nerves and vessels are embedded within the fascia. Sticky compressed tissue impairs nerve function, blood flow, and immune system response. This can even cause localized cell mutations. This path leads to chronic pain and disease. We can prevent some of this by leading an active life and eating well. When that’s not enough, acupuncture is a wonderful way to promote circulation and restore the fluid nature of the body.