Stress and Acupuncture
Tim H. Tanaka, Ph.D.
Almost everyone in contemporary society experiences some kind of stress. The word “stress” is so much a part of our daily lives that the English word has been integrated into the Japanese vocabulary as the similar sounding word “sutoresu”. Scientists today cannot ignore the fact that the body’s overall physical condition is influenced by mental and emotional stress and that stress can harm the body and lead to serious illness. Acupuncture can help.
A Japanese study of people residing in a large business area clearly indicated inhibition of the parasympathetic system and hyper-excitation of the sympathetic system in this sample. Resting heart rate (that is, heart rate taken in a quiet lying position) can be used to approximate the state of the parasympathetic system. In general, a faster heart rate correlates with the degree of inhibition of parasympathetic activity. If the heart rate is 70 beats per minute or more, it may indicate chronic inhibition of the parasympathetic system, with the ideal resting heart rate being around 60 bpm.
In my acupuncture clinic, I can say that nearly every patient’s condition is to some extent stress-related, regardless of the variety of symptoms he or she exhibits. My oft-used acupuncture treatment strategies, therefore, is to focuses on stress reduction by balancing the nervous system. In fact, my research has specifically focused on the influence of particular acupuncture needling techniques on autonomic nervous activity, with special regard to the parasympathetic nervous system which plays the central role in relaxation. I have clinically observed some of the major benefits of relaxation: efficient sleep patterns, increased digestive motility, expanded respiratory activity, and a corresponding decrease in pain, all of which serve to increase general energy and prevent illness.
Oriental martial arts and health exercises such as karate, chi-gong and yoga all emphasize the importance of breathing. Efficient breathing strengthens the body and increases its natural healing ability. Many of these exercises emphasize the importance of exhalation in particular, which agrees with scientific investigation into activity during exhalation. For example, a study conducted by Prof. Kazushi Nishijo showed that the parasympathetic nervous system is active during exhalation and is inhibited during inhalation. This study further indicated that superficial acupuncture needling (i.e. just below the skin’s surface) during exhalation (SES) induces prolonged activation of the parasympathetic system while the same stimulation applied during inhalation does not produce a similar response. My own separate experimental study confirmed Prof Nishijo’s study findings. In addition, I examined the effects of SES on the muscular system in a study which involved subjects with chronic tension headaches. Both muscle stiffness and headaches are common symptoms of stress. The results showed that EMG activity of the frontalis and upper trapezius decreased following SE S stimulation, indicating a relaxation response of this musculature. Moreover, subjects’ headaches significantly decreased within 30 minutes of receiving the stimulation.
Although I strongly believe everyone should participate in some form of stress self-management, such as yoga, breathing exercises, or meditation, many people require treatment to decrease levels of physical and emotional stress. In our stressful society we abuse our muscles and joints with long hours of sitting and with repetitive joint movement in front of the computer, so many people require more than self maintenance, just like a baseball pitcher needs regular sports massage in order to continue a productive career. Acupuncture, massage, shiatsu and reflexology are four of the ideal treatment modalities for stress management.
Read our innovative approach for stress management called “Acupuncture and Sound Assisted Autonomic Modulation Technique” which is based on the cutting edge heart rate variability research.