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I have been studying the physiological effects of acupuncture for four decades. 

This fascinating method of treatment has emerged from the belief that it is simply an ancient unproven placebo-driven practice to the realization that there are profound neurological and physiological benefits that can be attributed to the use of needling specific points in the body.

Acupuncture has had its skeptics, critics, naysayers and accusers. At the same time, it has had its fans, practitioners, enthusiasts, believers, students and researchers. Some hard-line critics say it is totally without merit, even though countless studies and millions of patient experiences prove otherwise. Enthusiasts on the other hand sometimes seem ready to believe in any claims associated with acupuncture.

I have found through persistent research of acupuncture that the truth, as often happens, lies somewhere in the middle.  

After using medical acupuncture in my practice for these many years I can affirmatively say that it can provide profound benefits, often in cases that have befuddled traditional medical providers. In our clinical experience the response has been overwhelmingly positive.

To understand how acupuncture can help human ailments (it works in veterinary applications as well) it is important to recognize that acupuncture has neurological, bio-electrical, endocrine, hormonal, metabolic and other physiological effects on our bodies.

These phenomena are not just observed in practice, they are also demonstrated in research laboratories.

Some of the more recent studies have been performed at Massachusetts Institute for Technology.

The first interesting discovery from these types of studies is that the research confirms there are definitive distinct responses within specific areas of the central nervous system (brain) to stimulation of peripheral nerves located in points that have been identified for thousands of years as acupuncture points.

The second interesting discovery is that through repetition of the studies it has been found that certain specific structures within the brain are especially sensitive and responsive to acupuncture. These structures include the hypothalamus and other parts that are collectively known as the limbic system.

The limbic system is the part of our brain that processes our perception of pain. In addition, the limbic system is associated with balancing emotions and managing such things as metabolism, hormones, energy and other essential functions.

This explanation is oversimplified yet still serves to introduce the concept of how acupuncture affects our bodies through the responses of the central nervous system.

Recognizing these central nervous system effects helps to understand how acupuncture can have such a dramatic effect on chronic pain as well as issues such as hot flashes, anxiety, weight loss and other conditions.

Acupuncture treatment has local physiological effects as well. For example, acupuncture is known to stimulate immediate increase in blood flow in the area. In addition, the treatment stimulates the reactivation of something called the healing cascade that can benefit local injuries.

For example, in our office acupuncture has been shown to stimulate healing in wounds and injuries that have been present for months or years without healing properly.  It has been very helpful in resolving joint pain and injuries that have been persistent for years.

Acupuncture can have an immediate and direct effect on damaged muscles and joints by deactivating contracted muscle fibers known as myofascial trigger points.  Acupuncture has been used widely for chronic pain such as headaches, joint pain, muscle spasms and even fibromyalgia. 

Even though there have been hundreds of thousands of research studies done on the neurological and physiological effects of acupuncture in research centers around the world, (primarily in China, Japan, France, Germany, Canada and the United States) the science is just in its infancy. 

At first the primary research question was “What is the mechanism of action of acupuncture?” So many surprising effects have been revealed that it is now obvious that acupuncture has hundreds of measurable effects on how our body functions and potentially more benefits than were previously imagined.

We have found in our office that patients often respond remarkably well with painful conditions that have failed to respond over time or to other more familiar medical treatments.  Patients with nerve pain, joint pain, even hormonal and digestive issues have responded well.  In many chronic cases, it is certainly worth a try.

Dr. Mark Kestner is a licensed chiropractic physician in Murfreesboro. His office is at 1435 NW Broad St. Contact him at mkestner@DrKestner.com

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