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Recent scientific studies have unlocked the mystery of acupuncture and were able to show anatomical and physiological mechanisms of acupuncture. The growing body of scientific literature is responsible for increased popularity of acupuncture in Western Medicine.
A study by Irnich et al. was able to show that a single treatment of acupuncture had immediate effects on pain and mobility (range of motion) in patients with chronic neck pain(1).
In 2007, Huang et al. demonstrated a significant increase in strength of both legs, when using electro-acupuncture on one side of the body. They concluded that acupuncture should be used in rehabilitation settings(2).
Acupuncture was shown to play a dramatic role in pain management, in the study by Audette and Ryan. The researchers were able to explain that acupuncture can reduce pain by decreasing the action of pain receptors (nociceptors) and change the sensitivity in the spinal cord. Acupuncture was also shown to decrease the levels of substance P, which is responsible for inflammation and pain, as well as increase the release of opiods into the system, which suppress pain receptors(3)
Sandberg et al. demonstrated that needle insertion into a muscle allowed greater blood flow into the area. This phenomenon permits faster tissue healing(4).
The body of evidence keeps growing, as acupuncture has also been shown to affect serotonin levels (promote sleep), facilitate parasympathetic nervous system (decrease stress) and change the structure of connective tissue.
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1) Irnich et al. “Immediate Effects of Dry Needling and Acupuncture at Distant Points in Chronic Neck Pain: Results of a Randomized, Double-Blind, Sham-Controlled Crossover Trial.” Pain 2007:99; 83-89.
2) Huang et al. “Bilateral Effect of Unilateral Electroacupuncture on Muscle Strength.” The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine 2007: 13 (5); 539-546.
3) Audette, F. Joseph and Ryan, H. Angela. “The Role of Acupuncture in Pain Management.” Phys Med and Rehab Clinic of North America 2004: 15; 749-772.
4) Sandberg et al. “ Different Patterns of Blood Flow Response in the Trapezius Muscle Following Needle Stimulation (Acupuncture) between Healthy Subjects and Patients with Fibromyalgia and Work-Related Trapezius Myalgia.” Europ Journ of Pain 2005:9; 497-510.