The Anti-inflammatory Effects of Acupuncture

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  • Effectively communicate with patients, other health practitioners & the community at large when asked that question – “So how does acupuncture work?” 

  • Understand that a course of acupuncture treatment can produce improvements in symptoms that continue to increase for months after the last treatment.

  • Overview acupuncture’s anti-inflammatory effects research.

  • Appreciate that manual acupuncture, low frequency electroacupuncture and high frequency electroacupuncture can have quite different effects in inflammatory conditions as they activate different pathways, thereby affecting different aspects of inflammation.



Inflammation was defined by Roman physician Celsus around 100AD by four characteristics – redness, heat, swelling and pain. 

The anti-inflammatory effects of acupuncture are relevant to the treatment of numerous inflammatory conditions including allergy and chronic inflammation. These anti-inflammatory effects involve complex interactions between the nervous, endocrine and immune systems, and next to pain, are the most thoroughly studied area of acupuncture’s physiological mechanisms.

It is clear that different aspects of inflammation involve different pathways. For example, inflammatory swelling is largely mediated by the HPA (hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal) axis, but inflammatory pain involves quite different pathways. Broadly speaking, the research can be divided into studies of nervous pathways, the HPA axis, mediators, receptors and signalling pathways. 

Drawing from his own experiences in researching the effects of acupuncture treatment for allergic rhinitis (hay fever) on the immune system, Dr McDonald overviews how acupuncture can treat a broad range of inflammatory conditions including allergic rhinitis, asthma, irritable bowel syndrome, osteoarthritis and migraine.

The value of this research is not necessarily in providing guidance for point selection, but rather helping us to be taken seriously by those with a medical background who are genuinely skeptical of whether acupuncture really works. When we tell such people how acupuncture works, they forget to ask us if acupuncture works.

Taking this course you will better communicate when asked that question – “So how does acupuncture work?”. For patients, simply informing them that acupuncture works as an anti-inflammatory is usually sufficient. For health practitioners who may want more detail, we can direct them to the relevant published research so that they can educate themselves.

You will understand how acupuncture treatment can produce improvements in symptoms that continue to increase for months after the last treatment. In chronic pain this is due to neuroplastic changes in the nervous system. In inflammatory conditions there is clearly a lasting modulation of the immune system. This is something that no anti-inflammatory medication can ever achieve.

Provider: TCM Academy

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