Acupuncture has a documented history dating back to ancient China over 4000 years ago. The theory is based on treating the internal energy (qi). The Ancient Chinese mapped out the flow of qi through the body into 14 meridians (energy pathways). Recently, electromagnetic research has confirmed the existence of the qi pathways.
In recent decades scientific research has shown that these theories, although they support some of the possible partial mechanisms of pain relief from local and distal needling, are not quite accurate even on the pain control mechanism of acupuncture.
Original attempts to explain the analgesic and pain control actions of acupuncture were:
- The gate theory of pain, first put forward some thirty years ago by Patrick Wall and Ronald Melzack, postulates the existence of gates or filters in the spinal cord that can modulate (increase or decrease) transmission of pain information within the nervous system.
- The second explanation is based on the existence of natural opiates (pain-relieving substances such as endorphins and enkephalins) in the central nervous system and elsewhere in the body
In recent years evidence has suggested that the antiinflammatory actions of acupuncture are mediated via the reflexive central inhibition of the innate immune system. Both laboratory and clinical evidence have recently shown the existence of a negative feedback loop between the autonomic nervous system and the innate immunity. There is also experimental evidence that the electrical stimulation of the nervous system inhibits macrophage activation and the production of TNF, IL-1b, IL-6, IL-18, and other proinflammatory cytokines.
It is therefore conceivable that along with hypnosis, meditation, prayer, guided imagery, biofeedback, and the placebo effect, the systemic anti-inflammatory actions of needling and electro-acupuncture are directly or indirectly mediated by the efferent nerve activation and inflammatory macrophage deactivation.