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The Science of Stretch

The Scientist shares the study of connective tissues that shed light on pain and provide new explanations for alternative medicine.

femalestretchingIn this article, Dr. Helen M Langevin, UVM Professor of Neurological Sciences and Director of the Osher Center for Integrative Medicine, illuminates the remarkable nature of the body’s connective tissue that holds our cells and organs in place and relays messages between them. This integral network that connects any two points in the body has been increasingly studied for its potential role in treating chronic pain and disease.

Dr. Langevin’s research investigates what occurs when a needle is inserted and interacts with the underlying connective tissue and how this may then produce a physiological response within the body. This could lead to a closer and better understanding of the mechanism behind acupuncture. Their findings show that when an acupuncture needle is inserted into the skin and manipulated, this winding action causes the surrounding connective tissue to “stretch”. In response to this sustained stretching, the fibroblast cells of the connective tissue change shape and initiate reorganization for tissue relaxation. The shape change also causes a release of extracellular ATP that can act as a local analgesic. This may explain why some acupuncture patients experience pain relief and reduced tissue tension after treatment.

These results support many of the fundamental constructs behind alternative manual and movement-based therapies, such as myofascial release, that recognize the importance of connective tissue in maintaining health. Dr. Langevin hopes this work will bring more attention and growing interest in this field: “This is an example of an area in which the combination of conventional and alternative medicine, typically referred to as ‘integrative medicine’, should be understood in a broader sense as an integration within medicine itself, inspired by alternative-medicine concepts. The growth and maturation of the field of connective-tissue research will no doubt benefit from exciting new developments resulting from this integration.”

Check out the whole article here.

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