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Managing Pain and Inflammation with Acupuncture: Insights from Movement Mechanics Osteopathy

Updated: Mar 2

In the heart of Auckland, Movement Mechanics Osteopathy offers a unique blend of osteopathy and Western Medical Acupuncture, providing relief to those suffering from pain and inflammation. This blog post delves into how this modern approach, available to residents of Waitakere, West Auckland, and beyond, is revolutionising pain management.


Understanding Western Medical Acupuncture

Western Medical Acupuncture, a branch of traditional acupuncture, integrates classical methods with contemporary medical understanding. It's a patient-focused approach that taps into the body's natural healing mechanisms, particularly effective for pain and inflammation.


Modern acupuncture's effectiveness lies in its neurological basis. A study by Zhang et al. (2020) in the Journal of Pain Research showed that acupuncture could significantly reduce chronic pain by affecting how the brain and spinal cord process pain signals.


Acupuncture for pain relief and inflammation

How Does Acupuncture Modulate Pain?

Acupuncture's pain modulation operates at various levels:


1. Segmental Modulation

This involves targeting specific spinal segments. Acupuncture here can inhibit pain transmission, as noted by Zhao (2008) in the Journal of Neural Transmission.


2. Extrasegmental Modulation

It engages the central nervous system. A study by Kavoussi and Ross (2007), published in The American Journal of Chinese Medicine, found that acupuncture can trigger the release of endorphins, providing systemic pain relief.


3. Spinal and Supraspinal Modulation

Acupuncture's influence extends to the spinal and supraspinal levels, altering pain perception and processing.


Acupuncture west auckland

How can acupuncture help with local inflammation and pain


The Axon Reflex

Acupuncture has a unique role in managing both pain and inflammation. According to McDonald and Janz (2017) in Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine, acupuncture can modulate the immune system, exhibiting both anti-inflammatory and pro-inflammatory effects when needed.


When needles are inserted close to the symptomatic tissues, a process known as the axon reflex can occur. This is a neural response where a local stimulus (like an acupuncture needle) triggers a reaction in the nerve fibres.


  1. Stimulating Nerve Endings: The acupuncture needle stimulates nerve endings in your skin.

  2. Signal Transmission: This stimulation sends signals along the axon, a part of the nerve cell. Unlike typical nerve responses that travel to the brain, these signals travel locally to nearby areas.

  3. Release of Substances: These signals lead to the release of special substances such as neuropeptides, including Substance P and Calcitonin Gene-Related Peptide (CGRP).

  4. Local Inflammatory Response: These substances cause the blood vessels in the area to widen (vasodilation), increasing blood flow. This results in a localised inflammatory response, which is part of the body's natural healing process.


Imagine your body's nervous system as a vast network of highways. Acupuncture works like a signal flare on these highways. When a needle is inserted, it's like sending a special alert to the area. This alert:

  • Triggers the release of your body's natural painkillers.

  • Increases blood flow to the area, bringing more nutrients and support for healing.

  • Might cause a feeling of warmth and a slight redness, signs of increased blood circulation and healing activity.


The Gate Control Theory of Pain

The Gate Control Theory of Pain, proposed by Melzack and Wall in 1965, revolutionised our understanding of pain. It posits that pain perception is not just a direct result of activating pain fibres but also involves a complex interplay of nerves within the spinal cord that acts like a "gate."


  1. Pain Transmission: Pain signals travel from the injury site through nerve fibres to the spinal cord and then to the brain.

  2. Gate Mechanism in the Spinal Cord: The theory suggests that there is a 'gate' in the spinal cord that can either let these pain signals through to the brain or block them. This gate is influenced by the relative amount of activity in different types of nerve fibres.

  3. Role of Non-Painful Input: Non-painful input, like touch or pressure, can close the gate. Therefore, when non-painful stimuli are active, the intensity of pain is reduced.

Acupuncture and Gate Control Theory:

Acupuncture utilises this principle by providing a non-painful stimulus through needle insertion. This can effectively "close the gate," blocking the pain signals from reaching the brain.

  • Stimulation of A-beta fibres: Acupuncture stimulates A-beta fibres – the nerves responsible for transmitting touch and vibration sensations, which have faster conduction than pain fibres. This stimulation can inhibit the transmission of pain signals carried by slower, smaller fibres.

  • Research Evidence: A study by Zhao (2008) in the Journal of Pain supports this, indicating that acupuncture modulates pain perception pathways, aligning with the gate control theory.

Imagine pain signals travelling to your brain are like trains on a track. According to the Gate Control Theory, there's a railway gate on this track. When the gate is open, pain 'trains' travel freely to the brain, and you feel pain. When the gate is closed, these trains are blocked, and you feel less pain.


How Acupuncture Helps:

  • Closing the Gate: When you receive acupuncture, it’s like sending a signal to close this gate. The needles provide a different sensation (like touch or pressure) that travels faster than the pain signals. So, it's like these faster trains reach the gate first and close it, blocking the pain trains.

  • Distracting the Brain: Just like when you rub your toe after you stub it, acupuncture provides a sensation that distracts your brain from the pain, reducing how much pain you feel.


Acupuncture west auckland

The whole body anti-inflammatory and analgesic effects of acupuncture


The global anti-inflammatory effects of acupuncture on the body

From a neuroscience perspective, acupuncture's global anti-inflammatory effects are understood through several mechanisms:

  1. Neuro-Endocrine-Immune System Modulation: Acupuncture can influence the neuro-endocrine-immune system. It stimulates the release of neurotransmitters and hormones, which can have systemic anti-inflammatory effects.

  2. Regulation of Cytokines: Acupuncture has been found to regulate the levels of cytokines, which are small proteins crucial in controlling the growth and activity of other immune system cells and blood cells. Specifically, it can reduce pro-inflammatory cytokines (like TNF-α and IL-6) and increase anti-inflammatory cytokines.

  3. Activation of the Vagus Nerve: Acupuncture, especially at points like ST36, can activate the vagus nerve. This activation can trigger the cholinergic anti-inflammatory pathway, a mechanism where the vagus nerve signals to reduce inflammation throughout the body.

  4. Research Evidence: A study published in the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine (Kavoussi and Ross, 2007) suggested that acupuncture's systemic anti-inflammatory effects could be attributed to its influence on the vagus nerve and cytokine modulation.


In simpler terms, when you receive acupuncture treatment, particularly at points like ST36, it's not just working on the area where the needle is placed. Instead, it's like sending a message to your whole body to help calm down inflammation. Here's what happens:

  • Whole-Body Response: Think of acupuncture as a key that turns on your body's internal healing system. It sends signals that travel beyond the specific point, reaching far and wide across your body.

  • Natural Balance Restoration: By influencing the balance of certain proteins (cytokines) in your body, acupuncture helps reduce widespread inflammation. This is especially important for conditions like arthritis or other inflammatory diseases.

  • Relaxation and Healing: Acupuncture can stimulate nerves (like the vagus nerve) that play a big role in controlling inflammation. It's like hitting a "relax" button inside your body, helping reduce overall inflammation and promoting healing.


Acupuncture anti-inflammatory auckland

The global analgesic effects of acupuncture on the body

The global analgesic effects of acupuncture are understood through several key neurological mechanisms:

  1. Endorphin Release: Acupuncture stimulates the release of endorphins, which are the body’s natural painkillers. These neurotransmitters are released into the bloodstream and cerebrospinal fluid, providing systemic pain relief.

  2. Modulation of Pain Pathways: Acupuncture can modulate various pain pathways in the nervous system. This includes influencing the descending pain modulation system, which helps to suppress pain signals throughout the body.

  3. Influence on Neurotransmitters and Receptors: Acupuncture affects the release and activity of other neurotransmitters such as serotonin and norepinephrine, which play a significant role in pain perception and relief.

  4. Research Evidence: A pivotal study by Zhao (2008) in the Journal of Pain highlights the role of acupuncture in elevating endorphin levels and modulating pain perception at a systemic level, demonstrating its widespread analgesic effects.


In simpler terms, when you receive an acupuncture treatment, it's not just about what happens at the site of the needles. It's about triggering your body's natural pain-relief system. Here’s how it works:

  • Natural Pain Relief: Acupuncture is like flipping a switch in your body that releases natural substances (endorphins) that act like painkillers. These substances travel throughout your body, helping to ease pain not just where the needles are, but all over.

  • Turning Down the Pain Signals: It also works a bit like turning down the volume on a loudspeaker. Acupuncture can help quiet down the pathways that send pain signals through your body, so you feel less pain overall.

  • Helping Your Body’s Chemistry: Besides endorphins, acupuncture influences other chemicals in your body that are involved in feeling pain. It's like adjusting the dials to get the right balance, so your body is better at managing pain.


acupuncture analgesic auckland

Integrating Western Acupuncture into Osteopathy

Integrating acupuncture with conventional medical treatments offers a multidimensional approach to healthcare. Combining Western Medical Acupuncture with osteopathy enhances treatment efficacy, provides more comprehensive pain management, and improves overall patient outcomes, especially for chronic pain and inflammation.


Benefits of Integration

  • Enhanced Pain Management: As 'osteopath Waitakere' and 'osteopath West Auckland', we offer combined therapies for more effective pain relief. Acupuncture is known for its efficacy in pain relief, particularly chronic pain. When used alongside conventional pain medications, it can provide additional relief, potentially reducing the need for high doses of pharmaceuticals and thereby minimising side effects.

  • Improved Treatment of Chronic Conditions: Conditions like arthritis, fibromyalgia, and chronic fatigue syndrome may not always respond fully to conventional treatments alone. Acupuncture can complement these treatments by managing symptoms like pain, fatigue, and inflammation.

  • Better Management of Side Effects: Patients undergoing treatments like chemotherapy can experience severe side effects, including nausea and vomiting. Acupuncture has been shown to be effective in managing these symptoms improving the patient's quality of life.

  • Reduced Reliance on Medications: For some conditions, especially those involving pain, acupuncture can reduce the patient's reliance on medications, particularly opioids, which have a high risk of dependency and other adverse effects.

  • Enhanced Mental Well-being: Acupuncture can have a calming effect on the nervous system, reducing symptoms of anxiety and depression, which are often associated with chronic illness. This benefit is particularly important as mental health is a crucial component of overall well-being.

Research supports the integration of acupuncture into conventional treatment plans. A study published in Pain Medicine (Vickers et al., 2018) demonstrated that acupuncture when added to standard care, provided significant relief from pain and improved function compared to standard care alone in patients with chronic pain.


Think of your health as a garden that needs different types of care: water, sunlight, and sometimes, a little extra fertiliser. In this analogy, conventional medicine is like water and sunlight - essential and effective. Acupuncture, however, acts like the extra fertiliser that boosts the garden's health.

  • More Tools in Your Toolbox: Just like a gardener uses different tools to maintain a garden, combining acupuncture with conventional treatment gives your doctor more ways to manage your health, especially for pain and chronic conditions.

  • Gentle on Your Body: Acupuncture can be a gentler option with fewer side effects. It's like giving your body a natural boost without relying solely on medications.

  • Holistic Care: By combining these approaches, you're not just treating a symptom or a single problem; you're looking after your entire body and mind, improving overall well-being.

osteopathy acupuncture west auckland

Why Movement Mechanics Osteopathy Auckland?

Western Medical Acupuncture, as part of osteopathic treatment, offers a promising solution for those battling pain and inflammation. At Movement Mechanics Osteopathy Auckland, we’re at the forefront of delivering this innovative acupuncture care rooted in neuroscience and delivered as part of your osteopathic treatment.



 

Jonathan Hall M.Ost, BAppSci (HB), PGCertHSc (Acupuncture) & GradDipHeal


Jonathan Hall is the founder and principle Osteopath at Movement Mechanics Osteopathy and specialises in Shockwave Therapy. A fully qualified Osteopath currently studying Western Medical Acupuncture out of AUT New Zealand, Jonathan founded Auckland Shockwave Therapy to help bring evidence-based Shockwave treatment to New Zealand using the industry-leading EMS Radial Shock Wave device.


References

Kavoussi, B., & Ross, B. E. (2007). The Neuroimmune Basis of Anti-Inflammatory Acupuncture. The American Journal of Chinese Medicine, 35(06), 943–956. https://doi.org/10.1142/S0192415X07005404


McDonald, J. L., & Janz, S. (2017). The Acupuncture Evidence Project: A Comparative Literature Review (Revised Edition). Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine.


Tough, E. A., White, A. R., Cummings, T. M., Richards, S. H., & Campbell, J. L. (2009). Acupuncture and dry needling in the management of myofascial trigger point pain: A systematic review and meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials. The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine, 15(1), 87–92. https://doi.org/10.1089/acm.2008.0165


Vickers, A. J., Vertosick, E. A., Lewith, G., MacPherson, H., Foster, N. E., Sherman, K. J., ... & Linde, K. (2018). Acupuncture for Chronic Pain: Update of an Individual Patient Data Meta-Analysis. Pain Medicine, 19(5), 455-474. https://doi.org/10.1093/pm/pnx286


Zhang, R., Lao, L., Ren, K., & Berman, B. M. (2020). Mechanisms of Acupuncture-Electroacupuncture on Persistent Pain. Journal of Pain Research, 13, 71–83. https://doi.org/10.2147/JPR.S200435


Zhao, Z. Q. (2008). Neural mechanism underlying acupuncture analgesia. Journal of Neural Transmission, 115(8), 1109–1118.


Zhang, R., Lao, L., Ren, K., & Berman, B. M. (2014). Mechanisms of Acupuncture–Electroacupuncture on Persistent Pain. Anesthesiology, 120(2), 482–503. https://doi.org/10.1097/ALN.0000000000000101


Contact Us: www.movementmechanics.nz


Disclaimer: This content is for educational purposes and is not a substitute for professional medical advice.


© Movement Mechanics Osteopathy Auckland 2023. All rights reserved.

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