“Lately I have noticed my usual answers to the common questions "how does acupuncture work? I mean, what do the needles really do?" have not been working for the folks who want an explanation in 20 words or less. Although I provide excellent literature on theory, a few months ago I jettisoned my TCM explanation and shortened it to "the needle sensation helps direct the release and flow of endorphins to stimulate the body's self-healing processes." This seems to satisfy those who find things like Qi and meridians either too esoteric or too hippy dippy to accept as viable healthcare.
“As it turns out, my simple explanation has evidence-based research to back it. The Columbia University electrical engineering department and University of Hong Kong medical faculty of the collaborated on a study published in the June 2011 issue of The European Journal of Physiology to explain how acupuncture works. Needling acupuncture points sends slow-moving acoustic waves into the muscles. This triggers a flow of calcium that interacts with white blood cells and produces endorphins which can relieve pain and nausea throughout the body.
“Accuracy and point selection are important. Correct placement generates a 6-8 centimeter wave whereas incorrect placement up to 1 centimeter generates only a 3-4 centimeter wave. This finding may help explain why sham acupuncture can have a therapeutic effect even if delivered via toothpick (as I have been saying as nauseam!). “
This is the abstract:
This article presents a novel model of acupuncture physiology based on cellular calcium activation by an acoustic shear wave (ASW) generated by the mechanical movement of the needle.
An acupuncture needle was driven by a piezoelectric transducer at 100 Hz or below, and the ASW in human calf was imaged by magnetic resonance elastography. At the cell level, the ASW activated intracellular Ca2+ transients and oscillations in fibroblasts and endothelial, ventricular myocytes and neuronal PC-12 cells along with frequency–amplitude tuning and memory capabilities.
Monitoring in vivo mammalian experiments with ASW, enhancement of endorphin in blood plasma and blocking by Gd3+ were observed; and increased Ca2+ fluorescence in mouse hind leg muscle was imaged by two-photon microscopy.
In contrast with traditional acupuncture models, the signal source is derived from the total acoustic energy. ASW signaling makes use of the anisotropy of elasticity of tissues as its waveguides for transmission and that cell activation is not based on the nervous system.
The researchers cite the minimal training and expense needed to train someone to apply magnetic acupressure at acupuncture point LI4. Unlike acupuncture, which requires years of post-graduate training, acupressure at a single acupuncture point can be taught quickly and easily. No patients experienced any significant toxicities associated with the acupressure procedures.
The acupuncture point used in the acupressure study was LI4 (Hegu, Joining Valley). It is located on the hand between the thumb and index finger. Naturally, training is necessary to ensure that the precise location of the acupuncture point is identified by those applying acupressure. In Chinese medicine, LI4 has long been known for its pain relieving properties. LI4 is also commonly used by acupuncturists for disorders of the face, eyes, nose, mouth and ear; including the treatment of pain. Proper stimulation of LI4 is effective in relieving headaches, pain of the eyes, toothaches, jaw pain, and pain of the limbs and bones.
Reference: The Analgesic Effect of Magnetic Acupressure in Cancer Patients Undergoing Bone Marrow Aspiration and Biopsy: A Randomized, Blinded, Controlled Trial. Ting Bao, MD; Xiaobu Ye, MD, MS; Janice Skinner CRNP; Bing Cao, MS; Joy Fisher MA, CCRP; Suzanne Nesbit PharmD, BCPS; and Stuart A. Grossman, MD. Journal of Pain and Symptom Management. Volume 41, Issue 6, June 2011, Pages 995-1002. The University of Maryland Marlene and Stewart Greenebaum Cancer Center and the Center for Integrative Medicine, University of Maryland School of Medicine, Baltimore, Maryland. The Sidney Kimmel Comprehensive Cancer Center, Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, Baltimore, Maryland.
NAUSEA, VOMITING, POSTOPERATIVE, PREGNANCY, CHILDBIRTH, CESAREAN SECTION DELIVERY - Acupuncture, Electroacupuncture, Childbirth, Ondansetron
"Effect of acupuncture on nausea and/or vomiting during and after cesarean section in comparison with ondansetron," El-Deeb AM, Ahmady MS, J Anesth, 2011 July 15; [Epub ahead of print]. (Address: Department of Anesthesiology, Faculty of Medicine, Mansoura University, Mansoura, Egypt. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org ).
In a study involving 450 pregnant women scheduled for elective cesarean section delivery, treatment with acupuncture (with electrical stimulation on the acupuncture point PC-6, bilaterally) for 30 minutes prior to spinal anesthesia was found to be as effective as treatment with the anti-emetic drug, ondansetron (4 mg), in reducing nausea and vomiting during the operation and 6 hours post-operatively. The authors state, "Electrical acustimulation is comparable to ondansetron in prevention of PONV during and after cesarean delivery under spinal anesthesia and in improving patient satisfaction."