The evolution of acupuncture

Chiropractic, medicine, and acupuncture have all evolved over time
as the understanding of the human body and disease has improved.

Acupuncture in particular has most recently undergone this transformation.  Current understanding of neurology, anatomy,
and physiology has led to a completely new refinement and appreciation of

This new medical form of acupuncture goes by many different names:
anatomical acupuncture, medical acupuncture, Western acupuncture, and
neuroanatomical acupuncture.

The ancient Chinese had a very limited understanding of human
physiology.  They observed an effect (acupuncture
helping certain ailments) and attempted to explain these effects based on their
science – the philosophy of Taoism. 

As a result traditional Chinese acupuncture is full of arcane explanations
and mysticism.     Physical diagnosis consisted
of looking at the tongue and palpating the pulse to determine the flow of chi
in the meridians to the different organs. 

Disease was thought to be due to an imbalance in the flow of chi
(life energy) through channels in the body (meridians).

 Neuroanatomical acupuncture
is a therapy based on modern scientific understanding of acupuncture points and
their effect on the physiology of the human body. 

Neuroanatomical acupuncture is an effective treatment for a variety
of nerve related conditions. 
Difficult-to-treat conditions such as sciatica, carpal tunnel syndrome
or irritated spinal nerves respond favourably. This therapy helps to normalise
nerve function, so conditions involving nerves that are either irritated or
damaged can benefit from treatment. 

Interestingly, virtually all traditional acupuncture points
correspond to known neural structures.      

Acupuncture points are believed to stimulate the central nervous system
and the autonomic nervous system.  These
two systems in turn release chemicals into the muscles, spinal cord and the

These chemicals either alter the experience of pain or cause a
cascade of neurochemical events that influence the body’s self-regulating
systems.  These biochemical changes may
stimulate the body’s natural healing abilities and promote physical and
emotional well-being.

Acupuncture can alter brain chemistry in a positive way.  This is accomplished by changing the release
of neurotransmitters (affect nerve impulses) and neurohormones (chemicals that
change the activity of an organ). 

As a result acupuncture normalises autonomic nervous dysfunction,
relieves pain, and creates a feeling of relaxation.

Acupuncture causes an immune response.  Studies have confirmed an increased level of
white blood cells in the human blood alter acupuncture treatments.  It is thought that this is how acupuncture
reduces inflammation.

Acupuncture stimulates healing. 
Since the acupuncture needle creates a micro-injury, there may also be a
regenerative response as tissue is regenerated and heals. 

This effect is most noticeable with peripheral nerves (outside of
the spine) and damaged tissues such as tendons (like the rotator cuff) and
muscles (such as a hamstring strain). 
Chronic injuries which have failed to heal may improve with acupuncture.

Neuroanatomical Acupuncture is quickly becoming a major part of
sports medicine. Trigger points are often called muscle “knots” by people, and
they are hyper-irritable spots in muscle. 

They occur in predictable locations in muscle.  Amazingly, 80 per cent of the classical
traditional Chinese acupuncture “points” are actually these trigger point locations.

Trigger points also reduce the functional ability and flexibility of
the muscles.  They are found in palpable
taut bands of skeletal muscle. 

The most frequent affected sites are the upper shoulders, rotator
cuff, low back, buttocks and chest muscles.

Neuroanatomical acupuncture is often utilised as a component of treatment
plans for a variety of sports injuries including: back pain, muscle
tears/pulls, ligament sprains, golfer’s elbow, tennis elbow, Achilles
tendinosis, rotator cuff dysfunction, bursitis, and shin splints.

Neuroanatomical acupuncture is not painful.  Everyone has a different response to

Typically the treatment is pain free, and most people are surprised
by how little they feel the needles. 

However, some people are very sensitive to the stimulation of their
autonomic nervous system which can result in a sensation of lightheadedness or

The initial application of the needles is similar to the ‘prick’ of
a mosquito bite.  The muscle around the
needle may initially ‘grasp’ the needle, and then relax over the course of the

Of course, the end result of the treatment is worth the slight discomfort
on might experience. For those who are just needle-phobic, therapy lasers can
be used to stimulate the points instead of the needles.

Dr. Jemal Khan
is a chiropractor based in the Cayman Islands.