Acupuncture: looking a little deeper

The delicate interplay between the mind, body and consciousness can be beautifully personified in Acupuncture, which is thrilling considering the bare bones of the practice: stainless steel needles vs. the human body.

What is it about inserting a needle in human skin that creates a physical and emotional reaction?

Simply, acupuncture is a practice of stimulating the nerve and muscle connections located around the body with stainless steel needles, which fire up the brain and nervous system, releasing natural pain-relieving chemicals. Different acupoints stimulate different Deqi sensations, which, in turn, activate different parts of the brain.

It has been conversed, argued and decreed at various points that acupuncture works, alongside the above explanation, through:

  1. an unblocking of channels that allows energy to flow freely and relieve pain
  2. a simple increase of blood flow stimulated by the needle
  3. trust and belief that the practice works.

The last point is the one most at odds with mainstream medicine, even though belief in the pain relieving abilities of something has been shown have similar effects to analgesics (Colloca & Benedetti, 2005).

What can be agreed, however, is that acupuncture works. Being able to continue to figure out why the practice works should be seen as a thrill and a journey.

A recent study on women’s experiences of having depression during pregnancy and receiving acupuncture treatment is a wonderful example of the benefits of the journey. This particular study was exploratory in nature and the first to report on women’s experiences of receiving acupuncture for antenatal mental health concerns.

Many pregnant women experiencing depression and anxiety are wary of taking medication and end up ‘feeling trapped between a rock and a hard place’, as a consequence of unsatisfactory experiences with conventional treatments (Ormsby, Dahlen & Smith, 2018). So, it is important to explore “not only the effectiveness of CAM therapies, but also women’s experiences of receiving them” (Hall, McKenna, & Griffiths, 2013, p.92).

What the study found was that the women, many of whom had long histories with mental health issues, experienced a sense of hopefulness following their acupuncture experience (Ormsby, Dahlen & Smith, 2018).

The use of acupuncture offered a new avenue of exploration for the women and an example for the rest of us: stay inquisitive and don’t be afraid to explore beyond common wisdom – i.e. acupuncture is great for my tense shoulders, but that’s it. Explore the benefits beyond the obvious and stay inquisitive.

Yes, acupuncture is centred on steel needles stimulating nerve and muscle connections. We can see and touch that. What we can’t fully comprehend is the ‘why’. Very rarely is there one simple explanation for human reactions – mind, heart, spirit and experience all touch and affect people differently, and Acupuncture is no different. The more important question to ask is: does it work for you? If so, wonderful. Let’s just start from there…

Feeling motivated to start or continue your acupuncture journey? You can view our recommended acupuncturists here. 

References and further reading:

Colloca, L., & Benedetti, F. (2005). Placebos and painkillers: is mind as real as matter?. Nature Reviews Neuroscience, 6(7), 545.
Findings from M.S. Wheeler et al Update Understanding of Psychology (The Effect of Mindfulness and Acupuncture on Psychological Health in Veterans: an Exploratory Study). (2018, April 28). Psychology & Psychiatry Journal, 3252. Retrieved from http://link.galegroup.com.ezproxy.derby.ac.uk/apps/doc/A535741690/AONE?u=derby&sid=AONE&xid=6a8a8d20
Hall, H. G., McKenna, L. G., & Griffiths, D. L. (2013). From alternative, to complementary to integrative medicine: supporting Australian midwives in an increasingly pluralistic maternity environment. Women and Birth, 26(2), e90-e93.
Lin, F., Qin, Y., Wang, J., Hao, F., & Wu, Y. (2018, October). Acupuncture Combined with Musical Therapy in the Treatment of Post-Stroke Depression: A Case Report. In 2018 9th International Conference on Information Technology in Medicine and Education (ITME) (pp. 34-38). IEEE.
Ormsby, S. M., Dahlen, H. G., & Smith, C. A. (2018). Women’s experiences of having depression during pregnancy and receiving acupuncture treatment—A qualitative study. Women and Birth, 31(6), 469-478.

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