Acupuncture

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When you’re in pain, all you want to do is feel better. The problem these days is, most of the treatment options doctors offer involve some kind of over-the-counter or prescription drug. And as we’ve learned the hard way, some of these drugs become addictive, leading to great suffering in some cases. Acupuncture treatments provided in physiotherapy offers a non-drug alternative path to pain relief. 

And, because acupuncture has proven itself effective even in clinical trials, some of which we’ll discuss in a moment, it is an approved treatment for concerns related to injury, pain, swelling, or stiffness, governed by licensure regulations, and usually covered by insurance.

When combined with other interventions in physiotherapy like exercise prescription, acupuncture offers patients a drug-free alternative to helping you recover and get back to the activities you want to do. 

Let’s take a deep dive into acupuncture treatments provided by physiotherapists.

The Ultimate Guide to Acupuncture

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This appointment is your opportunity to tell us what hurts and discover whether physiotherapy is a good fit for you! During this session, you will talk with a physiotherapist on a phone call (or online) and create the right care plan specifically for your pain. There is no obligation, this session is only to find out if physiotherapy can help you getting back to doing the things you love in life.

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The Ultimate Guide to Acupuncture

What Is Acupuncture?

what is acupuncture

Acupuncture represents the rare example of a traditional form of medicine that has gain approval and acceptance by mainstream western medical science. 

Why? Because while the all of the traditional theories and principles behind acupuncture have not been verified by science, its effect on the nervous system has been captured in research. In other words – we know it can be helpful, we just don’t know all the reasons why. 

Acupuncture that is provided by physiotherapists is based on Traditional Chinese Medicine. It is therefore an alternative approach to pain relief and that is based on the traditional belief in a life force energy known as Qi (pronounced ‘chee’).  The belief is that this energy flows along meridian lines, and that if you place needles along these lines at specific points depending on the patient’s condition, you will stimulate the body in its recovery. 

The scientific explanation for this is that the thin needles stimulate points along the body that cause an interaction with the autonomic nervous system (ANS). The ANS is the part of your body’s nervous system that helps you regulate a state of balance, or homeostasis.

You may have heard of the fight or flight response (sympathetic)? or the Rest and Digest response (parasympathetic)? The stimulation from the dry needle creates a rush of neurohormones that signals to your body to re-balance these states of sympathetic and parasympathetic states. 

Check out this post to learn more about Acupuncture courtesy of Ottawa Physiotherapy and Sport Clinics (Read the caption)

What Is Acupuncture Used to Treat?

what is acupuncture used to treat​

Acupuncture in physiotherapy can treat a great variety of conditions. Some have been studied by science more than others, which is why most medical doctors will say that acupuncture is a viable option for a complimentary treatment to medical management. 

Some ailments acupuncture can treat include:

  • Acute and chronic pain
  • Headaches and migraines
  • Muscle aches and spasms
  • Pain in your neck, back, shoulder, jaw, and joints
  • Inflammation such as tendonitis and fasciitis
  • Injuries that aren’t healing well
  • Post-surgery and post-fracture pain
  • Repetitive strain injuries
  • Osteoarthritis

That’s quite a list, and it could be longer. The underlying commonality here, if you didn’t pick up on it, is pain. 

Activate the stubborn muscles with stimulated acupuncture or dry needling techniques courtesy of Sporting Edge Physiotherapy (Read the caption)

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Find out whether physiotherapy can help you get back to doing the things you love in life. 

Common Problems Successfully Treated with Acupuncture

There are certain common conditions that tend to respond well with acupuncture in physiotherapy. Whether chronic or acute, general or specific, learn about how acupuncture can assist in the recovery of these common problems:

Tennis Elbow

Not just for tennis players. This is a common injury in our hard-working labourers like construction workers but can also affect those with repetitive jobs like desk work or assembly. Patients experience pain with gripping tasks, especially if trying to pour coffee or lift a jug of milk out of the fridge. 

Clinically, we see patients respond well to acupuncture treatments for tennis elbow. This can help with pain relief short-term so you can better participate in your rehabilitation exercises, recognize that your pain can change, and that your body is capable of recovery. 

Temporomandibular Joint Dysfunction or TMD

Stress, injury, dental work, and postural changes can all contribute to TMD. This condition is described as pain, tension, clicking, or locking (or a combination of those listed) at the jaw. Especially during the global pandemic, extra stress and mask wearing may be contributing to more noticeable symptoms of TMD. 

There are helpful points at the face and jaw that can help calm down the nerves, decrease muscle tension, and free up the movement in the TMJ. Alongside stress reduction strategies, exercises, and behaviour modification acupuncture is a helpful additional treatment to TMD.

Osteoarthritis

Stiff and painful joints keeping you from enjoying your life? Difficulties getting your leg up to tie your shoes or reaching above your head?

Acupuncture can be helpful for decreasing pain during an acute flareup or the chronic pain secondary to muscle guarding. Alongside a strengthening and regular exercise program provided by your physiotherapist, acupuncture can allow you to feel pain relief and less stiffness so you can move better in your day. 

Fibromyalgia

This is a very complex and unfortunately not a well known condition. Although there are many factors that contribute to this condition a common characteristic is persistent pain. Acupuncture can help in the management of persistent pain conditions like Fibromyalgia. Although the evidence to support its effectiveness is mixed, alongside active strategies discussed with your physiotherapist, many patients do find it helpful in their management plan. 

Migraines and Headaches

Migraines have been studied with regard to acupuncture possibly more than any other ailment. Many headache symptoms or worsening migraines can be triggered by an increase in muscle tension, nerve irritability, or stress. Therefore, acupuncture can be helpful for decreasing the severity, irritability, and occurrence of your headaches or migraines. 

Acupuncture treatment courtesy of MVMT Physio & Chiro (Read the caption)

Does Acupuncture Really Work?

does acupuncture really work

Many studies have been conducted to determine if acupuncture works, and if so, how well. As mentioned at the start of this article, the research isn’t conclusive on how acupuncture helps. Clinically  it shows its effectiveness. In the studies that are produced, here is some research we found:

Acupuncture and Migraines

Quite a few studies have sought to determine if acupuncture has an effect on migraines. In a Cochrane Review of 22 studies have shown to be helpful in preventing migraines.

There was a small difference in improvement of the acupuncture group when compared to the medication group. 

Acupuncture and Fibromyalgia

Another study found some benefits to those with fibromyalgia. Acupuncture treatment especially when combined with electrostimulation appears to be helpful with overall pain and fatigue with regular treatments. 

 

Overall, the research available for the effectiveness of acupuncture for specific conditions is low. However, with years of using this practice to help alleviate pain conditions and help the body in recovery from injury it has been helpful. This is one of the reasons why physiotherapists will use acupuncture in combination with other treatments and interventions.

 

How Does Acupuncture Work?

There are different hypothesis on how acupuncture benefits people, here are a few of the most accepted ideas.

One of the ideas is that it stimulates a neurohormone response in the body. By stimulating the nerves it releases naturally occurring neurochemicals that travel through the nerve and up to the brain to cause an effect.

The second idea is that the stimulation from acupuncture signals to your body to clear the pro-inflammatory markers that exist with an injury. A decrease in pro-inflammatory markers can have a direct effect on reducing pain caused by inflammation.

Another theory that is possible is the placebo effect that can happen with any intervention you use for pain, including acupuncture. A placebo effect is when other factors like environment and patient specific expectations play a part in the overall pain relieving benefits of a treatment. 

Again, these are all just theories about why acupuncture works. They attempt to explain the scientific basis for the Traditional Chinese Medicine that seems to work well at relieving pain and promoting self-healing for a variety of conditions.

Check out this post to learn more how acupuncture works courtesy of Waterview Physiotherapy & Health Centre (Read the caption)

5 Acupuncture Benefits

5 acupuncture benefits​

What can you expect to feel after undergoing a few acupuncture treatments provided by your physiotherapist? Here are five of the most commonly experienced effects that patients find benefits from.

Patients can experience pain relief either after their first treatment or a few treatments. The potential neurohormone effect and decrease in inflammation can decrease pain. 

Acupuncture is relaxing. It allows you to take the time for yourself to care for your needs. A treatment is typically 15-30 minutes long and gives you the time you need to relax while the treatment takes effect. Remember the PNS and SNS response? Stimulating the body with acupuncture is one way to help the body switch to a balanced PNS and SNS.

Whether you’re feeling tension in your neck, back, shoulder, jaw, or other joints or muscles throughout your body, acupuncture physiotherapy will likely lead to lasting reduced tension. You’ll also increase your ability to move freely, as your muscular health improves.

With a reduction in pro-inflammatory markers and helping your body balance a more parasympathetic state in can help decrease swelling and improve circulation around an injury. 

In the traditional approach to acupuncture they describe an overall improvement in the body’s ability to heal with an injury. By restoring the balance in energy flow (nervous system response) it allows the body to heal optimally from an injury.

In addition to all these benefits, you may be able to decrease or eliminate the need for various painkilling drugs and opioids. Helping you feel empowered and supported throughout your injury healing journey.

What to Expect from an Acupuncture Treatment

When you arrive for your physiotherapy treatment, your appointment will still look very similar to a general physiotherapy assessment. They will still ask a thorough history and a physical assessment of what your concerns are.

Once the physiotherapist who is trained in acupuncture treatments assesses your condition they will explain how they think acupuncture may help you. All the potential risks and benefits will be explained. They will also describe other interventions like movements throughout your day and exercise to continue to help your condition.

For the acupuncture treatment they will map out all the locations where they will insert the dry needles, they will swab each area with alcohol and insert one needle at a time.

For each, they will gently tap the needle t in. It won’t go very far into your skin, and you will barely feel it. How many needles are used, and where they are placed, depends on the condition the physiotherapist is attempting to treat.

The needles will stay in for typically 15-30 minutes. Sometimes electrical stimulation may be applied to the needles if indicated to produce further effects.

The whole experience is mild and you will likely feel little to nothing. For some conditions, you will want to attend multiple sessions for benefits.

7 Differences Between Acupuncture and IMS Therapy

It’s fairly easy to confuse acupuncture physiotherapy with intramuscular stimulation because both use dry needling. But there are actually more differences than similarities. IMS needling serves a different purpose than acupuncture, uses different methods, and results in different side effects.

Both can be used in conjunction with physiotherapy, and in truth most IMS physiotherapy practitioners use IMS needling as just one of the many treatments available to them depending on the needs of the patient.

Let’s take a look at seven major differences between acupuncture and IMS therapy.

1. Dry Needling Manipulation

In acupuncture physiotherapy, once the needles are inserted into the body, they remain undisturbed for the duration of the treatment. They just sit there. But in IMS physiotherapy, the needles are manipulated by the physio.

Learn the difference between dry needling, IMS and acupuncture, courtesy of Lime Health and Wellness 

2. Different Diagnosis Methods

Acupuncture is based on ancient theories about meridians, and this determines needle placement, length and number of treatments, and other factors depending on your condition. IMS needling attempts to locate specific nerves and muscles being impaired within your body.

3. Targeted vs General

As the last point suggests, an IMS physio will attempt to target specific muscles, all depending on your condition. For example, if you have shoulder pain, the IMS physiotherapist will insert the needle into your shoulder muscles, because that is the area being treated.

Acupuncture in physiotherapy, on the other hand, may target only a few spots around the shoulder muscle or any other particular muscle, because the needle placement is pursuing a different goal. By activating your body systems some points may be far from the site of injury.

4. Needle Depth

In general, acupuncture needles will not be inserted as far as the needles in IMS therapy. The reason again has to do with the purpose. With IMS needling, you want to stimulate the muscles and nerves. To do that, you have to go deep enough to get a reaction from the muscle. With acupuncture, the depths are pre-determined, and do not need to be as deep to accomplish the goal.

5. Duration of Treatment

Acupuncture generally lasts quite a bit longer than IMS physiotherapy. Most IMS needling sessions go just a few minutes, because once the muscles and nerves have been properly stimulated and reset, the treatment is done.

Acupuncture will typically last 15-30 minutes, but can go as long as an hour in some cases.

6. Level of Soreness

Dry needling IMS is a more ‘invasive’ procedure for the reasons you’ve already seen, and it does produce some soreness that can last a day or two. You will feel it. Acupuncture tends to produce little to no soreness. Most patients report none at all.

7. Different Foundations

As mentioned earlier, acupuncture is not based on science. While science has demonstrated the effectiveness of acupuncture physiotherapy to treat multiple conditions like those you saw in the referenced studies, the technique itself was not developed by science. It’s been around for thousands of years, before science as we practice it today even existed.

IMS physiotherapy was developed in the 1970s, and is based on scientific understandings of biology, muscle health, the nervous system, and other elements of human physiology.

For an in-depth exploration of IMS physiotherapy as a form of dry needling physio, read the ultimate guide to IMS treatment.

Common Injuries Successfully Treated with Acupuncture Physiotherapy

Frequently Asked Questions

You’ll begin by talking about your health history. Next, the physiotherapist will examine your body and perform some additional tests so they can determine the proper treatment plan for your condition.  

For the treatment, you will lay on a comfortable table while the therapist targets specific points on your body, based on your assessment. The fine dry needles are inserted at these targeted points, and most people barely perceive them. They stay in your body between 15 and 30 minutes. The needles are sterile, used only once, and disposed of safely in a sharps container once used.

The frequency and number of treatments depends on each person’s condition and the complexity of their injury. Most people need about 3 treatments however there can be dramatic relief after just one treatment. For complex or long-standing chronic conditions, it often takes one or two treatments per week for several weeks, and sometimes months. Usually, acute problems require fewer visits.

Your licensed physiotherapist will develop an individual treatment plan that includes the expected number of treatments, which will be discussed in your initial visit.

During and after treatments, most people report a feeling of relaxation. Some feel very tired, because the body has undergone some significant changes and needs to rest. If there is soreness where the needle was inserted the physiotherapist will discuss on best ways to manage the soreness post treatment.

Because the goal is a holistic approach to your concerns, your physiotherapist may use additional tools and approaches, such as:

  • Hands on manual therapy
  • Exercise to strengthen or release muscles
  • Education
  • Specific movement retraining
  • Posture retraining
  • Coaching for return to exercise
  • Strategies for pain or symptom management 

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Acupuncture is one of several possible methods for relieving pain that do not rely on prescription medications and all the side effects and baggage they come with. Not to mention that most drugs can only mask pain, but rarely address root causes. Find a clinic if you are suffering from muscle tightness, soreness, or pain to improve your quality of life, today.