One of the theories scientists have held for many years as to why acupuncture works to alleviate chronic pain and other ailments is called the Vascular-Interstitial Theory. This theory describes the idea that acupuncture works by affecting the electrical system of the body, the network of currents conducted by our cells. Electricity is vital for sending information through the body to the brain and vice versa, as well as in order to conduct currents to the heart, which allows it to pump at the right times.
A disruption to any of these electrical currents can cause illness. The Vascular-Interstitial Theory of acupuncture suggests stimulating acupoints affects these electrical currents in our bodies, facilitating healing by allowing the transfer of blood, organic matter and electrical energy between healthy and injured tissues.
Research published in March 2018 in Scientific Reports offered a significant contribution to our understanding of the interstitium, and therefore sheds new light on the Vascular-Interstitial Theory.
Previous research on the interstitium suggested it was a layer of densely packed connective tissue lining the digestive tract, lungs, urinary systems and surrounding veins and fascia between the muscles. New and increasingly powerful microscopes now allow scientists to look inside living tissues. In this case, the authors of the research were able to look inside the interstitium for the first time, and rather than a web of densely packed connective tissue, they found the space is a network of interconnected, fluid-filled compartments. This finding may help to explain why placing acupuncture needles at specific points on the body creates healing elsewhere in the body.
In an article for The Cut, reporter Katie Heaney interviewed one of the authors of this new research, Neil Theise, a clinician and professor of pathology at NYU Langone Health and a proponent of alternative medicine. While the research paper itself did not discuss acupuncture, Heaney asked Theise to weigh in on the possible connections. Theise posited it was possible the research had implications for understanding acupuncture. The layer of skin into which acupuncture needles are inserted is the interstitium, Theise explained.
“There’s fluid in there,” he told Heaney. “When you put the needle [into an accu-point], maybe the collagen bundles are arranged into a channel through which fluid can flow.”
The research shows the interstitium is a structured and organized system in the body. It may be that stimulating true acupoints allows interstitial fluid to travel throughout the body, explaining why acupuncture has far-reaching effects, not just offering pain relief at the site where the needles are inserted. Channels of interstitial fluid may be responsible for facilitating the transfer of blood, organic matter and electricity between healthy and injured parts of the body. These findings also offer a possible explanation as to why other research has shown sham acupuncture points have some pain-relieving effects where the needles are inserted, but true acupoints go a lot further in offering system-wide relief.
As always, this research is inconclusive on its own. It will require more research to further explore the connection between the interstitium and acupuncture, but it is undoubtedly an interesting idea.
Statistics show that almost eight out of 10 people experience low back pain at some point during their life. Seeking medical treatment for back pain is very common. Typically back pain is fleeting and can be easily resolved with rest, heat and an occasional anti-inflammatory like ibuprofen. However, once the damage is done, the recurrence of back pain can be as high as 50 percent. Part of this is because as we age, things like muscles and tendons become less flexible and pliable. This can also be attributed to the fact that many people suffer from low-grade dehydration because they don’t drink enough water and they don’t ingest enough healthy fats that keep the muscles and tendons loose. It is also very well known that in the United States, people are too sedentary, and this leads to excess weight gain that can create added pressure on the body, especially the low back.
Studies have shown acupuncture stimulates the body to produce natural steroids that reduce inflammation. Acupuncture also increases the production of endorphins, which are helpful in reducing pain. In this way, acupuncture can be very helpful in preventing costly surgeries or prescription pain medication addiction. If a person seeks out acupuncture treatments when the low back pain is acute, it can potentially help them avoid chronic pain.
Along these lines, there are also some things that can be done at home to help with low back pain. Acupressure uses the same concept of acupuncture without the needles. By applying pressure to specific acupoints with either a finger or a smooth rounded instrument, it is possible to decrease low back pain until an acupuncture treatment can be scheduled. Here are three acupoints that can be used to help with low back pain.
• Large Intestine 4 – This point is located bilaterally on the back side of the hand, in the webbing between the forefinger and the thumb. When the hand is made into a fist, the point can be located in the center of the mound of flesh that is created. This point is used for relieving pain anywhere in the body.
• Gallbladder 34 – This point is found bilaterally on the outer side of the lower leg. It can found in the depression that is in front of and below the head of the fibula. This point is known as the influential point of the tendons.
• Urinary Bladder 40 – This point is located bilaterally on the crease behind the knee, right in the center, directly behind the knee cap. This point helps relieve pain along the spine. It is helpful for relieving muscle spasms and reducing pain associated with sciatic nerve involvement, which stems from the low back.
Self-acupressure is an effective way to help relieve low back pain when you are unable to get in for a treatment. These three points can also be used on a regular basis in between acupuncture treatments to help keep low back pain at bay. Regardless, chronic low back pain should be evaluated to make sure that there are no structural issues that may require surgery. Ask me about acupressure if you’re curious!
Rebecca M H Kitzerow is a Licensed Acupuncturist practicing in La Center, Washington. With over a decade of experience she has won 10 Nattie consumer choice awards from Natural Awakenings Magazine since 2014.