Acupuncture is one of the oldest forms of pain relief, dating back thousands of years to ancient Chinese medicine. Fit For Work physiotherapist Kelly Mabbett explains how acupuncture can be used in conjunction with other treatments to help aid healing and relieve pain.
For a lot of people, the idea of having needles put into their body doesn’t conjure up particularly relaxing thoughts. But for many patients, relaxation is one of the main benefits they feel from acupuncture.
A lot of Fit For Work physiotherapists practice acupuncture, based on the Chinese acupuncture theory that each organ in the body has its own energy pathway or meridian. Inserting needles helps to unblock these pathways and restore balance or harmony. Western acupuncture involves incredibly fine needles being inserted into specific points of the body to stimulate nerve endings. Each needle is pre-sterilised, single-use and disposable. Once a needle has been placed into the body it will be manipulated until a tingling or warm sensation is felt. This is called Qi (pronounced chee). The needle will then be left in for up to half an hour before it is removed. Some people might feel a small scratch as the needle is inserted but many won’t feel anything. Patients sometimes even fall asleep during a session because they are so relaxed.
Acupuncture is like rebooting the injured part of your body. The stimulation encourages the nervous system to release and send pain relieving chemicals like melatonin, serotonin and endorphins to the injured area to help relax and aid the healing process.
When a patient is assessed for diagnosis, for example if they have been experiencing pain in their hip, acupuncture may be used in conjunction with manual therapy techniques and home exercise. It can be used to treat all kinds of issues like back and neck pain, migraines, muscle and joint pain, and acute or chronic injuries. Generally, it is used for pain relief.
Each energy point, where a needle might be placed, is connected throughout the body, like a network of roads in a city. For example, you might put a needle into a specific point on the patient’s foot to treat their hip. Or there is a particularly good point on our shins that is great for relieving shoulder pain.
Generally, when we experience pain or are injured, our bodies will move in a different way to take pressure or pain off the affected area. Over time we become accustomed to moving in that way, such as putting more weight or pressure on your right leg to compensate for pain in your left leg. While everyone responds to treatment differently, usually after a few sessions of acupuncture, your pre-injury movement patterns will be return. This means you should be able to move your body, or the injured part of your body as you would have before the injury.
As with any injury or pain, it’s important to see a GP or physio as soon as possible so that they can assess and diagnose the problem before coming up with an individualised treatment plan.