This post is the Coles Notes version of a fantastic article by Chris Kesser.
How does acupuncture work?
The most common explanation goes something like this:
“Disease is caused by disruptions to the flow of energy, or qi, in the body. Acupuncture stimulates points on or under the skin called acupuncture points or acupressure points, releasing this qi. The qi then travels through channels called meridians”
I used to blurt this out all the time when people asked me how acupuncture works. Most acupuncturists will deliver some version of the above explanation when queried because this is exactly what is taught in acupuncture schools in the West. What’s funny about this slightly woo woo explanation, is that Chinese medicine is not actually an energetic, metaphysical medicine.
The “qi” and “energy” description came from a French bank clerk named Georges Soulie de Morant, who looks like a pretty serious fellow (see photo) but had no experience in translating ancient Chinese nor any training in medicine. This somewhat mystical view of acupuncture is neither historically accurate nor consistent with our modern scientific understanding of the body.
Broadly speaking, acupuncture does three key things: relieves pain, reduces inflammation and restores homeostasis.
How does it do all of this?
Acupuncture promotes blood flow. This is super important because blood contains the oxygen, nutrients, immune substances, hormones, analgesics and anti-inflammatories the body needs in order to heal. For example: a decrease in blood flow by as little as 3% in the breast area can lead to breast cancer.
Acupuncture stimulates the body’s built-in healing mechanisms by creating ‘micro traumas’. These tiny traumas stimulate the body’s ability to heal tissue injuries through our nervous system, our immune system and our hormones. As the body heals the micro traumas, it also heals any surrounding tissue damage left over from old injuries, bing bang boom!
Acupuncture releases natural painkillers. When the needles get inserted, it signals the brain to release chemicals such as endorphins, norepinephrine and enkephalin, some of which are 10-200 times more potent than morphine!
Tense muscles? Acupuncture relaxes them, which in turn releases pressure on joint structures and nerves, and promotes blood flow.
Acupuncture reduces stress. This is huge! It does this by stimulating our parasympathetic “rest-and-digest” nervous system. Impaired parasympathetic function is involved in a wide range of autoimmune diseases, including arthritis, lupus, rheumatoid arthritis and inflammatory bowel disease.
Take home message: acupuncture works by stimulating the peripheral nervous system. It heals us by relieving pain, reducing inflammation and restoring homeostasis. In other words, it brings our body back into balance and makes us feel good, and there ain’t nuthin’ wrong with that!
So many of our patients here at Stillpoint spend their nights tossing and turning. It wouldn’t be such a big deal if these people were napping to make up for the lost hours of sleep, but due to busy lifestyles, naps are not a priority for most.
But they should be! A brief mid-day slumber of 20-30 minutes can increase alertness and boost mood. Furthermore, naps can enhance performance and decrease the risk of mistakes and accidents. And they feel oh so good.
So what does all of this have to do with acupuncture?
The first thing you will notice when you set foot in the community treatment room at Stillpoint is people, reclined in chairs and dozing peacefully. They’re acu-napping! Not only are they getting treatment, but they are sneaking in a rejuvenating nap at the same time. Clever acu-nappers!
I can nap at home, why come in for an acu-nap?
A study conducted in 2004 at the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health in Toronto found that in patients with anxiety, acupuncture increased nighttime melatonin production and total sleep time. And the patients who received acupuncture also fell asleep faster, were less aroused at night and were less stressed overall. Boo ya acupuncture!
Here at Stillpoint we treat many patients with sleep issues. If their insomnia is a fairly recent occurrence, then usually only a short series of treatments is needed to reverse the trend. Chronic insomnia on the other hand, will take longer to correct. The treatment plan is always customized depending on each patient’s unique presentation. Even if someone has been struggling with sleep for a long time, it is still worth giving acupuncture a shot. It can’t do any harm and in most cases will infact improve sleep as well as overall health.
Everyone knows how bad it feels to be sleep deprived. We will tend to feel groggy, grumpy, out of sorts, nauseous, achy, confused… the list goes on. Our bodies need a certain amount of good quality sleep in order to function. It’s not surprising that sleep deprivation has been used as a means of interrogation and torture.
There is so much happening inside our bodies while we are sleeping. There are processes that help in the consolidation of memories and learning. There is hormonal production and regulation, which contribute to our appetite the following day.
You can think of sleep as a form of brainwashing–but the good kind! As you know, the cells in your body are constantly creating waste. Our lymphatic system is what cleans up the mess in our body but it stops at the neck. So how does the brain get cleaned?
It turns out that cerebral spinal fluid that fills our brain travels down the outside of our blood vessels collecting cellular waste and carrying it out of the brain. Squeaky clean! But guess what? This process happens only when we are asleep.
Are you tired of getting a bad sleep? (Pun!) Then why not give acupuncture a try? We will come up with a point protocol specially for you to improve your quality of sleep. And all we ask of you is that you cosy yourself into one of our recliners, kick up your feet and let our needles do the work.
How to Ease Your Holiday Stress
It’s that time of year again, when thoughts turn to decorating, gathering with family and friends,
and celebrating over good food. Oh. And stress. Lots and lots of stress. Whether it’s finding the
right gifts for everyone, balancing kids’ school concerts with party invites, or dealing with a
neverending to-do list, the holiday season can be downright overwhelming. It’s enough to make
even your normally zen acupuncturists just a little edgy.
But it doesn’t have to be that way. Really. It doesn’t. Doing just a few things can help buffer you
against the stresses of the season so you can be really present and actually enjoy it.
A stress primer
When trying to reduce stress, it helps to understand how our bodies respond to stressful
situations. Thanks to millions of years of evolution, our nervous systems are finely tuned to
detect threats in our environment and respond by triggering a surge of adrenaline and other
hormones to, well, get us the heck out of Dodge. Quickly.
This is great when you’re, say, trying to evade a mountain lion intent on making you its dinner.
That’s what our fight-or-flight response is for: a quick burst of energy that lasts about 15
The problem with our modern lives, though, is that we are constantly exposed to stressors that
are not life-or-death situations, but our brains still perceive them as such. So the fight-or-flight
response gets fired again, and again, and again. Our bodies just don’t get a break. It’s a little
like running an engine at full throttle without any oil or coolant — pretty soon things start to melt
down and fly apart.
Stress can take a real toll on the body. It interferes with digestion, disrupts sleep, lowers
immune response, slows healing, and muddies thinking. We all know the signs of stress:
tiredness, poor decision making, weird stomach symptoms, colds and flus that never seem to
end, and irritability. Really not fun at any time of year, but especially not around the holidays.
Beating holiday stress with acupuncture, KOH, and community!
So, you probably knew this was coming, but getting into the clinic more often during the holiday
season — or any stressful time — really is a great way to help ease stress. Both acupuncture and
Kruger Omni Healing (KOH) work with the same systems involved the stress response in the
In particular, acupuncture and KOH get the body back into a restful state and out of the fight-or-
flight cycle. In that mode, the body’s systems find their equilibrium again: digestion normalizes,
sleep improves, and immune and healing responses increase. In addition to decreasing stress,
regular treatments can increase the body’s resiliency so it responds to stressors more
appropriately. The body doesn’t go to DEFCON 1 when the line for gift-wrapping gets too long,
or a loved one forgets to pick up cranberry sauce before the stores close. Everyone suddenly,
miraculously, seems far less annoying.
Getting your treatments at Stillpoint also comes with a bonus stress-reducer: community! Social
interactions can greatly reduce stress, and when we’re stressed we often withdraw because we
feel we don’t have time to meet up with friends and acquaintances. Whether it’s chatting with
one of our friendly volunteer receptionists, or just taking in the energy in our treatment room with
fellow acu-nappers, Stillpoint provides many opportunities to amplify healing through
A serene holiday season
The holidays don’t have to be a stress fest. A little more needling, maybe a KOH session, and
the healing gift of community will all go a long way to curbing that fight-or-flight response. Then
you can leave the holiday stress to the movies. In fact, why not curl up on the couch and watch
Jimmy Stewart struggle to save a Depression-era bank at Christmas in It’s a Wonderful Life? Or
marvel at how the Cratchits keep the season in A Christmas Carol? And, if you want a laugh,
find a copy of Stuart McLean’s story “Dave Cooks a Turkey.” Your heart will definitely grow a
From all of us at Stillpoint, we wish our community a happy, healthy — and calm — holiday