How Does Acupuncture Work?
by Lydia Sullivan
While acupuncture points were originally identified centuries ago by practitioners in Asia according to energy (chi) meridians and channels in the body, more recent research has revealed these points correspond to areas of high vascularity, lymphatic drainage or nerve bundles. Other insertion points commonly utilized are “trigger points” which are patient-specific areas of tenderness or pain that can impinge on nerves and impair blood and lymphatic flow. When a trained veterinarian inserts very fine needles into these specific points on an animal’s body, a desired therapeutic effect is produced on the targeted disease symptoms.
There are three primary effects of acupuncture point stimulation. Neuromodulation is the ability to influence nerve action, which can lead to a reduction in inflammation and relief of tingling or painful sensations from overactive nerves. Neuromodulation can also cause the release of beneficial hormones such as endorphins, and even affect the brain and spinal cord. Recent studies have demonstrated acupuncture can increase µ-opioid receptor activation providing pain relief; these same receptors are activated by opioid pain medications such as morphine. This is one reason why acupuncture is so often used in managing painful conditions.
Acupuncture can also improve blood and lymphatic circulation, which allows for more efficient delivery of nutrients and oxygen, as well as removal of metabolic waste products from tissues. These effects can in turn aid surrounding tissues in returning to normal function.
Throughout the body, there are thin layers of connective tissue called fascia. When these fibers and layers become disorganized and/or overly thickened, they can constrict vessels and nerves leading to pain and dysfunction. When these “trigger points” are released by acupuncture, fascial fibers can reorganize, thus restoring normal blood and lymphatic flow as well as nerve function.
Dr. Lydia Sullivan, DVM, CCRP, CVMA, is the owner of EverLoved Veterinary in Mobile, Alabama, and certified in veterinary medical acupuncture. Connect at EverLovedVeterinary.com.