Does the body really “want” to heal? My answer: sort of.
The body wants to stay in something called “homeostasis.” So what even IS this homeostasis? Let’s keep this simple. Homeostasis is the body keeping itself in balance chemically. So in the smallest of ways – keeping your electrolytes in balance, your blood circulation levels, your pH and all those liquid-y, chemical little things that we need to survive, all in proper balance. The body is only interested in staying in balance in THIS moment. If it does something now that causes trouble down the line it doesn’t matter, so long as it is in balance now. This is how it keeps you alive.
This is why I say the body doesn’t want to “heal.” It wants to stay in homeostasis. Huh? Lets take an example:
Say you are a HUGE soda drinker – diet, regular, Coke, Pepsi, doesn’t matter. So the carbonation in the soda causes your pH to become more acidic. Your body then says EEEK, we are too acidic we need to become more alkaline. Calcium is an excellent neutralizer to acid and thus you will slowly leech calcium out of your bones to neutralize the acid from the sodas you are drinking.
And so this happening every once in a while you are probably okay. But if done too much or if you are a person who doesn’t have huge amounts of calcium in your system in the first place then what happens? Osteoporosis. Osteopenia. But the body isn’t thinking “geez, if I keep doing this I’m going to start breaking bones really easy so I’d best find another way to neutralize this acid.” Nope. It thinks like this: “Too acidic! Add calcium to neutralize. Find calcium in the bones. Leech it out. Back to a state of homeostasis. The End.”
Here is an example of an animal:
Henry the horse has an extra good time in the field and comes in with a big gash on his right front leg, disturbing his state of homeostasis. The horse’s cells say “EEEEK!!!! Trouble! Trouble at the RF cannon bone!” The body starts to concentrate on the area. The immune system takes over. The injured area starts to heat up and swell. The white blood cells come in and fight any present infections. Okay, so the body is starting to heal right? Nope. The body is bringing itself back to stability. Now, if that means also healing back to a normal state, great. But if not it doesn’t much matter to the body. Why? Because the body is in this moment. This moment only is what counts. An action occurs, the body re-acts to the situation. It doesn’t think about how it may be affected later.
So for those of you who know horses, what would happen if this big gash was left untreated? Even if the horse didn’t get a systemic infection,** is the wound going to heal itself and leave a perfectly normal leg without human intervention? Unlikely. Instead it will start to fill in with a lot of fleshy tissue called “proud flesh” that easily bleeds, but will create a huge barrier between the gash and the outside world. Often it will grow way outside of the injured leg. The area will be very hot and sore. It will likely heal but it will NOT look like the leg it once was. This is one example of homeostasis at work. The body wants and NEEDS to stay in homeostasis. So the body immediately gets to work fighting the infection and building tissue so that the gash is covered as soon as possible. Being left open allows more bacteria and other infectious stuff to get in which again causes more loss of homeostasis. So then the body DOES want to heal but not in the way that is best for the horse (and the horse being ridden) in the long run.
So what do we do to help the horse? Our vet comes out, cleans, and stitches the leg. We wrap the leg. We give the horse antibiotics and anti-inflammatories. We put all kinds of “stuff” on the leg to keep proud flesh from growing and infection from coming in. We give the body every chance to go back to homeostasis WHILE healing. Get it?
So what does this have to do with healing (or not healing)? Well, so long as the body is happily in homeostasis in the first place it will heal. But sometimes, like in our examples above, when thrown out of balance, then often coming back into homeostasis causes trouble in the long run. So instead of healing – sometimes for something that seems really simple – like a sprain – things just get worse and worse. So now let’s talk about George.
Let’s say George, a perfectly healthy 41 year-old man, slips and falls on some ice. He lands on his tailbone. Boy is he lucky it isn’t broken – just a bruise. In a couple weeks he is all healed up (thanks to Aleve and some ice packs) and goes back to his normal schedule.
About a month later (could be any time really but let’s just say a month) George starts to have back pain. Not where he fell on his tailbone but around the waistline where the “lumbar” area of the back is. He figures he just got out of bed “wrong” and it will go away. But it persists. It gets worse. He doesn’t even relate the two incidents together – in his mind his body wanted to heal and did just that with the tailbone, right? This is just a freak thing. But two months later he can hardly get out of bed in the morning. Now it loosens up as he gets going but it still hurts throughout the day.
So George goes to the doc. He gets an MRI which shows an inflamed disk. He tells him to stop lifting things and take this prescription pain meds to help. George follows the doctor’s orders. It gets better, kind of, it still hurts, but he can manage the level of pain now with the meds.
Six months down the line. George has some really weird digestive issues. He gets diagnosed with Irritable Bowel Syndrome. George starts to think, well this is what happens when you get older, right? I must just be getting old here at 42. (He had a birthday).
He says, “ I’m 42 now so this is just what middle age is like.” Or is it?
So how acupuncture really works…
What the acupuncturist really does is help your body to shift its homeostasis from a place of not healing to a place where it can heal.
So in the example above, the acupuncturist (like me) would likely start with a detox session. From there we would work on relaxing the tendons, bringing more energy and circulation to the back and digestion, (or less if needed) and generally getting the body to go back into a place of homeostasis where it can heal itself.
So how do you prevent all this? By using tools that help your body continue to come back to a state of homeostasis that allows it to heal and not have any “snow ball effects.”
Proper nutrition, proper micronutrients (like vitamins and minerals) are very important. Eating organically as much as possible. Exercising and actually sweating to help the body clear out impurities. Sleeping well. And having periodic acupuncture sessions are all ways to get back into “the right kind of balance” and staying as healthy as possible.
I really hope this article was helpful. If you have a question about yourself, one of your animal friends, or acupuncture in general please send them to me and I will answer them!
** An infection that runs throughout the entire body.