What is the science of stretch? And is it related to the science of Acupuncture? It just so turns out there was some majorly eye-opening research done recently on just what happens when we stretch and how that is similar to what is happening when you insert an Acupuncture needle into an Acupuncture point.
After I graduated from Oriental Medical school I spent about two weeks working with an MD & Oriental Medical Practitioner in Fukuoka, Japan. We worked closely with the collegiate athletes using a method of Acupuncture that he pioneered & calls the M-Test. The basic idea is to improve the functionality of the physical body by testing certain movements and improving them as you go. The basic testing includes a patient coming in and moving their body through a number of stretches, assisted as well as on their own. The goal is to find where the patient has the most trouble moving and which seems to cause the most discomfort or pain. With athletes, you can see how this could really effect ones ability to do their sport. An athlete’s body is their most prized tool and depending on their sport, they need to have a dialed and efficiently working machine (body) on their hands in order to excel in their game. In the bigger scheme of things, Acupuncture meridians cover the body in a sort of highway system of energy, flowing up and down and over and through the body. These meridians are stretched with certain movements and a trained Acupuncturist can tell which meridian (and possibly which organ system) is affected in their patient by identifying which movements are more difficult. These meridian systems are closely aligned with connective tissue lines in the body as well, which follows a very similar concept held by Yogi’s and their practice of treating certain ailments with different asanas (stretches).
Connective tissue research is actually not very well-studied. In these new series of studies, (you can read the entire piece here), scientists are studying the effect of stretch and Acupuncture needles of Fibroblasts; a cell that is ever-present in the extracellular matrix, a vague space that makes up much of what we consider connective tissue. Essentially what happens when you insert and twist an acupuncture needle into the extracellular space, the tissue wraps around the needle, just like spaghetti around your fork. This sustained stretching causes a change in the Fibroblasts surrounding the area, wherein, they flatten and ‘release’, essentially unbinding any stagnation in the tissue and along the connective tissue lines (meridians). This small change is associated with a larger scale relaxation and release of tension in the surrounding connective tissue and there you have it, relief of pain, improvement in range of motion and therefore movement.
While this information is a large part of what is happening during Acupuncture and stretching in general, there are also a number of other things happening during acupuncture and one of the biggest is the release of endogenous opioids. The insertion of a needle into skin, triggers a cascade of other hormonal changes, one being the release of natural pain relievers (your opioids) which also aid in the relief of pain, improved healing capacity and that wonderful state of being we like to call “Acu-land”.
To read more about this please read the whole article, though it is quite long, it is really interesting. In the meantime, come see me for some Acupuncture for whatever ails you!
Till next time ~ Be Well!
Erin Resko, L.Ac