The practice of Acupuncture is ancient, dating back as far as 1000 BC. It has been used for centuries as a multi-system treatment method for an array of conditions, ranging from back pain, to sinusitis, to infertility and everything in between. The method of Traditional Chinese Acupuncture is based upon a system of meridians, or channels which are believed to transmit ‘Qi’ or energy throughout the body. When pain or pathology develops, it is considered that this Qi has become stagnant, polluted or factors such as Heat, Cold or Wind have entered the channel, causing imbalances and disruption of the energy flow. By stimulating the channels at the various Acupuncture points along the meridians, the flow of Qi may be rebalanced, and its normal flow restored. This is where Acupuncture needling comes in to play.
Over the years, many clinical research studies have been undertaken investigating how Acupuncture works. At Enliven Health we use a ‘Westernised’ approach to Acupuncture, in conjunction with your Physiotherapeutic treatment, in order to address any musculoskeletal problems that you may have. It may used to treat acute, inflammatory conditions to stimulate healing, in chronic or long-lasting conditions such as low back pain, and soft tissue-related conditions such as muscle spasm. The actual physiology behind the effects of Acupuncture in the treatment of these conditions is very complex, however for your information it has been summarised below.
Research has found that when an Acupuncture needle is inserted into the body, it has many physiological effects on the tissues and it is these effects which contribute to the pain relieving process. There are many nerve endings residing in the skin which are stimulated by the needle. When stimulated, these nerve endings fire messages into the brain and spinal cord, which result in the release of the body’s natural pain killers, such as endorphins and serotonin. These chemicals also promote sleep and so you may also feel very relaxed during your treatment.
Inflammation is an important part of the healing process, however it may become chronic in certain pathologies. When an acupuncture needle is inserted into the skin and rotated, it causes a microtrauma within the tissue. This causes increased blood flow into the area and the release of anti-inflammatory chemicals which encourage healing of the tissue. Furthermore, the needle is a foreign body within the tissue and the body reacts to this by releasing white blood cells which are also important in the healing process.
There are many soft tissue and muscle problems which may benefit from Acupuncture treatment. During inflammatory conditions, the soft tissues associated with the area may change, becoming thicker and tighter. Furthermore, pain may lead to protective muscle spasm and shortening. Trigger points may also develop within a muscle due to changes in it’s activity. This may be in association with some chronic conditions such as Fibromyalgia, or manifest as a result of overuse, joint problems or injury. Trigger points are taut, painful areas within a muscle that can be very sensitive and can even refer pain into other areas of the body.
When an Acupuncture needle is inserted into the soft tissues and rotated, recent research has discovered that the needle interacts with the connective tissue around it. When the needle is rotated, the tissue wraps around the needle, causing the tissue to deform and stretches the tissue internally. Blood flow is increased into the muscle which can reduce trigger points and assist with healing. These effects can be very quick and may only take minutes to achieve.
Acupuncture needles are very fine, sterile and single-use and will be disposed of immediately after your treatment. They are available in differing thicknesses and lengths, depending on the body part that is to be treated.
After your assessment, your Physiotherapist will decide on which Acupuncture points need to be used in your treatment. Sometimes only a few points will be used, at other times a number of points may be used. The area to be treated will be sterilised before the needles are inserted.
On insertion, the needle pierces the skin very quickly, and in most cases is not felt at all. After this initial insertion, the therapist will rotate the needle. This action stimulates the underlying nerve endings and connective tissue, which results in the physiological effects that promote healing, muscle relaxation and pain relief. Depending on the method and aims of your Acupuncture treatment, the needles may be removed after a few minutes, or may be left in place for up to 20-30 minutes.
Acupuncture is a safe treatment method, when it is administered by a member of the AACP [Acupuncture Association of Chartered Physiotherapists]. Members adhere to strict guidelines, both in the hygiene of its use and treatment delivery. Furthermore, members must undergo frequent training in order to keep up to date with current evidence based practise. A thorough assessment will be undertaken beforehand to determine if there are any contraindications to treatment, and a health screening questionnaire will be completed prior to treatment to ensure your safety.
As with all types of treatment, Acupuncture may or may not be suitable for all people, even if you have received it as a treatment method in the past. This is because you may suffer from specific conditions, your health may have changed, you may be on certain medications or you may be pregnant. It is therefore important that you have undergone an initial assessment with a Physiotherapist beforehand, in order to establish any specific health concerns that may contraindicate its use. Your therapist will then discuss with you if acupuncture may or may not be appropriate, and it may be incorporated into your treatment program from there. As acupuncture will be used as part of your Physiotherapeutic care and treatment, there will be no additional costs involved when you receive this treatment.
For any further information regarding acupuncture at Enliven health please contact us. You are also referred to the AACP website www.aacp.org.uk for your interest and information.