Acupuncture was first used to treat a variety of ailments in the Far East, approximately 2,000 years ago, and finally made its way to the West during the nineteenth century.
In traditional Chinese medicine (TCM), acupuncture is used as a method of altering the flow of Qi; the disruption of which is thought by practitioners to cause a plethora of maladies.
Qi is described in TCM as an individual’s “life force”, an energy that flows within all things and that gives rise to the various properties of our physical world, including our own anatomy.
Qi is believed to flow through various meridians, pathways within the body, that link certain areas; within TCM it is believed that the free and un-altered flow of Qi via these pathways is important for health and wellbeing and as such, practitioners will attempt to correct this with a variety of methods including acupuncture.
Medical acupuncture, sometimes referred to as dry needling, embraces the techniques used in traditional acupuncture but replaces the concept of Qi and meridians with diagnoses more commonly found in Western medical practices.
Practitioners of medical acupuncture will commonly target what are known as myofascial trigger points (MTrP) and areas of protective muscular spasm in order to stimulate relaxation, as well as attempting to reduce pain and promote healing by looking to evoke or enhance normal physiological responses to pain and injury.
So how does it work?
There is still a great deal of debate about the exact mechanisms by which acupuncture produces results and in all likelihood, as with many other techniques, it is likely to be a combination of several.
In general acupuncture is suggested to stimulate nerve fibres known as A delta fibres; these link directly with the sections of the spinal cord involved with the transmission and control of pain signals from the central nervous system, and are suggested to have an inhibitory effect on descending pain pathways.
This, in theory, is why acupuncture in one part of the body may cause a decrease in pain in another.
Acupuncture is also thought to promote the release of a number of chemicals within the brain, such as endogenous opioids and serotonin, which can further affect sensations of pain and wellbeing.
Is acupuncture for me?
For this question there is, unfortunately, no definitive answer.
Medical acupuncture has been suggested to be effective for a number of conditions and provides another tool with which both you and your therapist can start to address your pain and discomfort.
Because of variation from person to person in both physiological response and psychosocial characteristics, it is often impossible to say whether or not this modality will be the one for them.
In some instances, those open to the effects of medical acupuncture have been given little to no relief whilst those that have considered it “a complete waste of time” (to quote a current client) have found themselves quickly free of pain and regular promoters of its use (the previously quoted client being a prime example).
This is rare amongst conservative pain treatment techniques as often our preconceptions of treatment effectiveness can mediate our physical and psychological responses.
This alone is a fantastic advert for the potential effectiveness of medical acupuncture in treating pain and dysfunction.
For these reasons it will always be best to speak with your sports therapist (or other treatment provider) who will be able to discuss the most appropriate options with you.
For more information on medical acupuncture or to book an appointment, please contact us.