· Illustrations by Stephanie Dalton Cowan
What researchers are discovering to help explain how acupuncture works in the body.
Western medical experts don’t have an explanation for how energy travels from a point, through a meridian, and into the related organs and body parts. As acupuncture continues to prove effective, however, more scientists are studying how it works.
One theory proposes that acupuncture transmits signals through the body’s fascia network, the layers of connective tissue surrounding muscle groups, organs, and blood vessels. Fascia acts as a support system as well as a medium of communication between cells. Some researchers believe that the meridians represent myofascial chains, which would explain how placing a needle in a point along the fascia in the forearm could transmit signals to the shoulder, or an organ along the chain.
At the University of Vermont in Burlington, Helene Langevin, MD, led a study in which researchers mapped two dozen acupuncture points on cadavers and examined the tissue beneath the points. Notably, more than 80 percent of the points were located where connective tissue planes or networks converged. Langevin’s research also found that turning the needles in those major connective-tissue intersections (as acupuncturists often do during treatment) stimulated a reaction in the tissue that traveled to areas of the body far from the insertion site.
“She proposed that these planes were in fact the channels described in traditional East Asian medicine,” says Arya Nielsen, PhD, director of the Acupuncture Fellowship Program for Inpatient Care at Mount Sinai Beth Israel Department of Integrative Medicine in New York City. “This connective-tissue system is now the object of study by the Fascia Research Society.”
Even if the meridians cannot be solely explained by connective-tissue pathways, that doesn’t make them any less legitimate, says Adam Reinstein, LAc, an acupuncturist at Abbott Northwestern Hospital in Minneapolis. “Acupuncture was developed over centuries of practice and study and can’t be easily explained in Western terms,” he says. “We don’t really know how everything works in Western medicine either, but people question it less because it’s what they are accustomed to.”
This originally appeared in the November 2016 issue of Experience Life. For the full article see “Acupuncture: Getting to the Point.”
Illustrations by Stephanie Dalton Cowan