Chronic pain – whether from a back injury, arthritis or daily headaches – can be annoying, disheartening, and frustrating for the sufferer. For the brain to register pain, there are two types of neural signals hitting at approximately the same time. The first signal to the brain comes from the sensory nerve, and the second from proprioceptive nerves – nerves that fire next to the sensory nerves, and inform the brain where the pain originates. When the body is working correctly, the brain will release a flood of enkephalins (our body’s own natural pain killers). To do this, the enkephalins seal the pain receptors in the brain along the spine and capillary beds where the pain is felt. By stopping the pain, enkephalins allow the body to resume it’s normal function. Chronic pain results when enkephalins do not fulfill their purpose in the body.
There can be more than one reason the body’s natural pain-relieving mechanism fails. A continual weak signal stemming from the proprioceptive neural tissue appears to be the number one cause of pain. If this neural threshold is too low, the brain will not understand where to send the enkephalins. This allows the pain to continue. Acupuncture raises the signal strength on the proprioceptive pathway, and results in an immediate relief from pain. A wide range of pain related problems have been treated as a result through acupuncture. Unfortunately, acupuncture will not be as effective if the pain is a result of structural issues – such as bone or soft tissue pushing on a sensory nerve. These patients usually require more invasive procedures, such as surgery.