Traditional Chinese Acupuncture in Physiotherapy: Stimulating the Body’s DIY Repair Kit

The days of seeing Acupuncture as some kind of woolly hocus pocus are pretty much over, thankfully.

There now exists a growing body of scientific research that has examined the effectiveness of Acupuncture on various conditions. So, if your Physiotherapist employs these techniques, it doesn’t mean she is a new age flower child or even that she believes in Eastern medicine. It just means that she employs techniques associated with evidence-based western medical acupuncture research.

These large-scale studies support the benefits of this long-established treatment. For example, it is accepted that acupuncture can help osteoarthritis of the knee and tension-type headaches, especially when used in conjunction with other physiotherapy treatments. NICE Guidelines (2009) and SIGN Guidelines (Scotland, 2013) recommend a course of ten sessions of acupuncture for persistent, non-specific low back pain.

In fact, an extensive research study has shown Acupuncture is more effective than prescription painkillers, including morphine.

Where did Acupuncture originate?

The concept of Traditional Chinese Medicine [TCM] originated as an ancient system of written scripts as far back as 1000BC. It is founded on the holistic concept of treatment that recognises the body’s ability to return to a balanced state of health, given the correct stimulus to do so. Acupuncture involves the insertion of very fine needles into the skin. It has been used as a part of Eastern Medicine for over 2,000 years and, increasingly, in Western medicine since the 1970s.

How exactly does Acupuncture work?

The human body is amazing. It has the ability to “self-repair”. And Acupuncture is a means to making that happen faster and in a natural way.

Acupuncture stimulates the body (mostly the brain and spinal cord) to produce its own NATURAL pain- and stress- relieving chemicals – such as endorphins and oxytocin. It also encourages a sense of well-being, by stimulating the release of serotonin. Acupuncture also stimulates nerve fibres to inhibit pain signals and helps to reduce the sensitivity of tender points in the body. It is used in physiotherapy, therefore, to manage pain and inflammation; but it is also used to stimulate the body’s own healing process to enhance rehabilitation and aid recovery from injury. Patients often report feeling very tired and lethargic after Acupuncture treatment, as it promotes sleep by stimulating the release of melatonin in the body.

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Why is Acupuncture so effective when combined with physiotherapy?

Treatment with Acupuncture is undertaken with the aim of restoring all the body systems to a state of balance (homeostasis). But you need to identify the imbalance in the first place. The physiotherapist has the ability to determine the source of the imbalance and identify the correct acupuncture points required to address it. So, the first step is an in-depth physiotherapy assessment.

Acupuncture can also be combined with other physiotherapy treatments – such as manual therapy, exercise and relaxation techniques. It can also be used when other, more conventional, treatments have failed.

The use of Acupuncture, Acupressure or Electro-Acupuncture enhances the repair mechanism and enables an improved recovery time. This allows other physiotherapy treatments such as exercise, muscle strengthening and rehabilitation to achieve more effective results.

Can anyone have Acupuncture?

The vast majority of people can have acupuncture treatment but, as with any other technique, there are certain health conditions that may stop you receiving acupuncture or mean that the treatment should be used with caution. Our specialist Physiotherapist at Platinum Physio will determine on your initial assessment if your injury or dysfunction is appropriate for acupuncture treatment.

So, the take home message is Acupuncture is not some kind of hocus-pocus that was designed by Eastern wizards. It is a technique which is used in combination with other evidence-based physiotherapy techniques to get the optimal treatment for each individual patient. It is never applied in a ‘one size fits all’ manner and should be individually designed and incorporated into the physiotherapy treatment. If you are having pain or discomfort, please book in for a Physiotherapy assessment with one of our specialist Physiotherapists. There is a possibility that Acupuncture may be used as an adjunct to other physiotherapy intervention to optimise your recovery time and reduce your pain.