Anxiety disorders come with many emotional and physical symptoms such as worry, lack of sleep, poor concentration, sweating, nausea, palpitations, dizziness, muscle tension and aches, tension headaches and back pain, to name but a few. The majority of us will have suffered from one or more of these symptoms in the past.
Whilst there are many psychological therapies and medication recognised as useful for the treatment of anxiety disorders, I was pleasantly surprised to read that acupuncture dry needling could be considered as one of the possible therapeutic options alongside the existing repertoire.
Western medical acupuncture or dry needling, is a form of treatment involving the insertion of fine needles directly into a myofascial trigger point, basically contracted knots in the muscle tissue which cause pain and tightness. Theses trigger points are directly related to the production and maintenance of the pain cycle.
Dry needling is an adaptation of Chinese acupuncture using current knowledge of anatomy, physiology and pathology and the principles of evidence based medicine.
So how does dry needling work? It stimulates the neural pathways which blocks pain by disrupting pain messages being sent to the central nervous system.
This then causes the release of neurochemical messenger molecules. The resulting biochemical changes influence the body’s homeostatic mechanisms (body temperature, body fluid composition, blood sugar, gas concentrations and blood pressure), thereby promoting physical and emotional well-being.
Research has shown that acupuncture dry needling may specifically benefit anxiety disorders and symptoms of anxiety by:
- Acting on areas of the brain known to reduce sensitivity to pain and stress, as well as promoting relaxation and deactivating the ‘analytical’ brain, which is responsible for anxiety and worry (Hui 2010)
- Regulating levels of neurotransmitters and hormones such as serotonin, hence altering the brain’s mood chemistry to help to combat negative affective states (Lee 2009; Samuels 2008; Zhou 2008; Yuan 2007)
- Stimulating production of endogenous opioids that affect the autonomic nervous system (Arranz 2007). Stress activates the sympathetic nervous system, while acupuncture dry needling can activate the opposing parasympathetic nervous system, which initiates the relaxation response
- Reversing pathological changes in levels of inflammatory cytokines that are associated with anxiety (Arranz 2007)
- Reversing stress-induced changes in behaviour and biochemistry (Kim 2009)
As with all treatments and medicines, acupuncture dry needling, will be more effective for some people than others, in the reduction of anxiety.
Safely combined with conventional treatments such as medication or therapy, it can possibly enhance their beneficial effects and reduce unwanted side-effects.