When our nerves are healthy, so are the muscles, tissues, joints and vessels that are supplied by that nerve. Acupuncture may help to improve nerve health.
I've been there.
I use it every day in my practice for hormonal conditions, acute headache, stress and sleep disorders and most of all, pain management.
Being the keener that I am, I spent my weekend in Toronto at the Canadian College of Naturopathic Medicine learning about integrative approaches to pain management using acupuncture.
While acupuncture and Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) is a major component of the scope of practice of Naturopathic Doctors in Ontario, TCM is a field of study that could occupy a lifetime. I use on a daily basis with my patients and am constantly learning new ways to work with people.
The take home of the course is that the Nervous System is King. When our nerves are healthy, so are the muscles and organs that they innervate. When the nerves are under- or over-stimulated, under-nourished, or damaged, the parts of the body that these nerves feed will be affected too. In other words, it is not about the sore back muscles or a herniated disc, but about the damaged spinal nerves causing those issues. Therefore, the most effective way of decreasing that pain is not just by sticking a needle where it hurts (along the lines of "medical acupuncture" that you might receive from your physiotherapist) but also by targeting the nerve that supplies that area.
A Case of the Nerves
Many disorders are related to the nervous system. For example, peripheral neuropathy is a condition that arises from apparently "normal" nerves wherein abnormal impulses are transmitted along the neuron resulting in pain, altered sensation, muscular weakness or changes in skin, hair and nail growth in that nerve's distribution. Peripheral neuropathy is associated with advanced Type 2 Diabetes, B12 deficiency anemia, kidney and thyroid disorders, alcohol abuse, autoimmune conditions and repetitive injuries. Conventional approaches include pain medication, antidepressant and anti-convulsive medications and lifestyle counseling for wound care, but sometimes fail to address why the nerve is unhealthy in the first place.
In the picture below, you can see that there are several "departments" of the nervous system. The Autonomic Nervous System takes care of many body functions that we don't consciously control: breathing, sweating, blushing, the urge to urinate, salivation, respiration rate... although there are many instances where we probably want to. Diseases of Autonomic function include Fibromyalgia, heart failure, Diabetes Mellitus, sexual dysfunction, Parkinson's Disease, and Multiple Sclerosis and many others.
The ANS is further divisible into the Parasympathic and Sympathetic Nervous System.
The Parasympathetic Nervous System should be our dominant state of being, the "Rest and Digest" and even "Feed and Breed" mode. However, when we are constantly in a state of arousal: angry alarm clock, running late, report due, sitting in traffic, arguments etc. the Sympathetic Nervous System takes over. Better known for its "Fight or Flight" functions, the SNS serves to kick our bodies into high gear to help us survive a life-threatening attack. The problem is that our body has not evolved to differentiate between the stress of an impending shark attack or that presentation we have to give in front of the company. We only know that there is a threat. Problem? Yes.
When we are constantly in overdrive, we take away vital resources from our body's essential day-to-day functions such as digesting without pain, tissue repair, restful sleep, consolidating short-term information into long-term memory and making babies. All of these concerns walk into my office on an regular basis. So what is a busy person to do?
Train your body!
In my practice, I teach people how to shift their bodies from a state of constant alarm in Flight or Flight into a more sustainable Rest and Digest mode. We can do this through deep breathing exercises, gentle movement, massage, cultivating a state of mindfulness and self-care. Sometimes, additional help such as botanicals (often in teas), homeopathy, supplementation and you guess it, acupuncture are helpful to reinforce that message.
Consistency is key here. We adapt to patterns that may or may not be healthy for us, and it takes a repeated effort to initiate a new way of operating. Therefore, it is recommended that any changes you make, provided that they are safe and appropriate for you and under the guidance of a qualified health care professional, are used on a regular basis.
Check me out.. I'm getting acupuncture to help rebalance my nervous system!
If you are interested in acupuncture for pain management, book a Health Discovery Session with me to discuss if this treatment is right for you.
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Dr. Keila Roesner is a Naturopathic Doctor. When not treating patients she is also an enthusiastic barefoot-strolling, music-loving, yoga-doing kitchen wiz - who also happens to be a wrestling fan.