Two main reasons I add electricity to my acupuncture needles:

Accelerated Pain Relief & Increased Muscle Functionality.

Electroacupuncture can provide dramatic pain relief of different types of pain

  • inflammatory pain (due to injury, arthritis, tendonitis, bursitis, etc.)
  • nerve pain (injuries to nerves, nerve impingement, neuropathies, spinal nerve issues)
  • organ pain (colitis, gastritis, etc.)
  • cancer pain

It triggers the release of your body’s natural opioids (beta-endorphins, dynorphin) and the release of neurotransmitters like dopamine and GABA that downregulate pain; glutamate to repair damaged cells, CGRP to increase blood flow to the injured area; red and white blood cells and nerve growth factor to speed healing; anti-inflammatory prostaglandin, and substance P which tells the brain to send resources to the injured area, while blocking the release of inflammatory cytokines.

Electroacupuncture not only desensitizes the pain receptors in the area that hurts; it also acts at the level of the spine and at the brain. Quick anatomy recap: the spine is a like a relay station for the peripheral nervous system, so if you hurt your hand, the nerve impulse travels to your spine and then to the brain to communicate. Electroacupuncture can help turn a signal from your spine from what would be a scream down to a whisper by the time the message gets to the brain through the release of serotonin, norepinephrine, and enkephalin.

But wait, there’s more: the brain then responds by triggering the release of serotonin and norepinephrine to further downregulate pain (and improve mood!).

Diagram of mechanisms of electroacupuncture acting at peripheral site, spine, and brain

Image credit: Ruixin Zhang, Lixing Lao, Ke Ren, Brian M. Berman; Mechanisms of Acupuncture–Electroacupuncture on Persistent Pain. Anesthesiology 2014; 120:482–503 doi: https://doi.org/10.1097/ALN.0000000000000101

Alligator clips attaching electrical leads to acupuncture needles on a leg

Electroacupuncture in my clinic, Life in Balance Acupuncture Photo credit: Cassidy Donaldson

 

 

In addition to pain relief, electroacupuncture has the ability to restore muscle functionality incredibly fast — often in less than 20 seconds. While acupuncture and manual therapies can do this too, electro-acupuncture does it faster.

Say you’re dealing with hip pain. I would put you through a series of resistance tests to determine whether the muscles affecting that joint are firing correctly. If they’re not, it often means that muscle has been powered down due to pain or injury, thus not able to do its job very well. I would then select a motor point, a spot where the motor neuron communicates with the muscle, and stimulate it with Electroacupuncture to turn it back on.

This often works in less than 30 seconds, restoring optimal function to the affected joint, which not only interrupts an inflammatory pain cycle, but enables the muscle to build strength once again. (Click here for a full tour of how this works, or listen to this episode of my podcast.)

 

Ruixin Zhang, Lixing Lao, Ke Ren, Brian M. Berman; Mechanisms of Acupuncture–Electroacupuncture on Persistent Pain. Anesthesiology 2014; 120:482–503 doi: https://doi.org/10.1097/ALN.0000000000000101

I’ve been talking a lot about electro-acupuncture and how it’s amazing to take down inflammation, get muscles that aren’t firing to do their job, and release the body’s natural opioids to relieve pain. But a lot of people can’t quite picture what it’s like.

My daughter Cassidy was visiting from grad school last week with her boyfriend Blake, so we combined an office tour with a demo photo shoot.*

Here’s how it works:

First, I do an assessment. I position the patient’s limb and ask them to press into my hand while I resist their pressure.

This helps me assess which muscles are inhibited or weak — usually due to repetitive use or injury.

In an area of pain, you can bet some muscles aren’t working properly. Resistance testing helps me assess which ones, so we can turn them back on using acupuncture or electro-acupuncture.

Here are some action shots of me assessing hip flexion and abduction, as well as her anterior deltoid:

After the assessment, we begin treatment. I insert needles at specific points in the affected muscles known as motor points, where a motor neuron connects with a muscle to create movement, and where the muscle will contract with a minimal amount of external stimulation.

Next, I often use a device that applies electro-stimulation to the end of the needle at a frequency of 10 Hz to cause the muscle to contract.

We aim for a strong but comfortable level of stimulus for just 8-12 seconds a couple of times.

Often, this is enough to get the muscle to do its job. We’ll retest and a previously inhibited muscle will test strong. This was the case with Cassidy.

Boom.

Here’s what that looks like:

upper trapezius motor point

I then applied electro-acupuncture to motor points by attaching alligator clips to the acupuncture needles and running a current through them. The sensation is similar to that of a TENS unit — a strong but comfortable pulsing sensation. I let that run for about 15 minutes.

 

See how relaxed she looks? 

Meanwhile, Cassidy’s boyfriend, Blake, who had been taking the photos, mentioned that he hadn’t been able to go running with with Cassidy due to shin splints. I gave him a short 4-needle treatment so could get a feel for what acupuncture is like.

   

Results: The day after the treatment, Cass and Blake went running together. Blake had no pain in his shins, and Cassidy reported that she felt “springier,” and the lower limb that received treatment felt “like it’s better at doing what it’s supposed to do.” So even though this was just a one-off “for demonstration purposes” treatment session, both 24-year-old athletes noticed immediate, marked improvement. And hopefully you got a better sense of what getting an electro-acupuncture treatment might be like.

This kind of treatment can be great for:

  • osteoarthritis
  • chronic or acute pain 
  • restricted range of motion anywhere
  • tight fascia or tight bands, adhesions, or “knots” due to injury or repetitive strain
  • wanting to feel your best doing the things you love
  • post-surgery recovery
  • old injuries that have never quite healed
  • preventing wear-and-tear on your joints resulting from compensation patterns

 

To set up your treatment series (usually 2x/ week for 3 weeks, at which point we re-evaluate), give us a call at (541) 757-4868.

(*My clinic is a health care setting where masks are required, but since we came in off-hours and have been staying in the same house for a week, we opted to show our faces.)