What is Acupuncture?
Acupuncture originated from ancient system of traditional Chinese medicine. It involves the holistic approach of treatment based on the belief that the imbalance in the body’s energy (Yin and Yang) causes poor health. It is believed that stimulating certain points on the body can help to restore the balance between Yin and Yang that becomes disturbed in illness.
Acupuncture is now being used in Western medicine as one of many tools physiotherapists use as part of an integrated approach to treat pain and inflammation. Research has shown that acupuncture produces natural pain-relieving chemicals such as melatonin and serotonin which can influence sleep and feelings of well-being. Therefore, acupuncture can be used along with other treatments such as manual therapy or exercise to excel recovery.
What is Acupuncture good for?
Acupuncture is useful for relieving pain, improving body function, mood and sleep. It is used for many musculoskeletal, sports or arthritic problems. Acupuncture is often used in combination with other physiotherapy treatment methods.
What type of Acupuncture is used in physiotherapy?
1. Conventional Acupuncture
In Conventional acupuncture thin needles are inserted into specific points in the body. There are two approaches to acupuncture which sometimes overlap: Traditional acupuncture, based on the theories and techniques of Traditional Chinese Medicine, has been used as a method for balancing the body’s energy to prevent or cure diseases and disorders, whereas Western medical acupuncture adapts the traditional Chinese approach and applies a scientific method to understand and explain its effects.
Acupuncture will be recommended based on an individualized assessment and often is used in conjunction with other physiotherapy treatments.
The physiotherapist uses single-use, pre-sterilised disposable very thin needles of varying widths, lengths and materials that are inserted at certain meridian points on the skin. The needles are typically left in position for between 20 and 30 minutes.
Trigger point acupuncture is used to facilitate relaxation in muscles after trauma, for chronic muscle pain, or to improve muscle length to help stretch and range of motion. In the latter case, the needle is placed in the affected muscle until the tissue under the needle relaxes. Trigger point needling often produces more effective and faster results with shorter treatment time.
In acupressure the physiotherapist uses her hands to activate acupuncture or trigger points to relieve muscle tightness, or to stimulate Qi flow and energy balance. The amount of pressure varies according to the condition and area of the injury. Acupressure is mostly used in those with a phobia of needles, children, sensitive, and frail people.
3. Laser Acupuncture
Laser stimulation can be applied for any acupuncture point for which needles are typically used. It is particularly suited for nervous patients, children, sports injuries, sensitive areas and ears.
4. Moxabustion and cupping
Moxabustion and cupping are techniques where some warmth is applied into the acupuncture points. In moxabustion the warmth is introduced to the end of the needle where as in cupping it is introduced to areas that require increased stimulation of Qi flow. The added warmth helps with increasing the circulation, and reducing muscle spasm and pain.
Moxabustion and cupping may also be used before stretching the injured muscle or mobilising a joint. These techniques are used in the treatment of osteoarthritis and muscle spasm.
5. Electro Acupuncture
Acupuncture needles can be coupled to the electrodes of an electro-acupuncture machine. The machine delivers variable amplitudes and frequencies of electrical impulses. This helps with the mechanism of pain reduction by stimulating chemicals in the brain that aid analgesia, relaxation and sleep.
Research supports the use of electro-acupuncture in chronic pain conditions. Physiotherapists may use transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS) over specific acupuncture points to enhance pain relief.
What if I prefer a different treatment method?
Acupuncture is one of many techniques that your physiotherapist may use. Discuss the benefits and risks of acupuncture and other available treatments with your physiotherapist. For some, such as those with needle fear or a history of fainting, an alternative treatment might be a better option.
Do all physiotherapists perform acupuncture?
No. Physiotherapists who perform dry needling (including acupuncture) have been certified with recognized Institutes such as Acupuncture Foundation of Canada (CAFCI) in addition to their university education. They have also received approval to perform needling from their regulatory body (Physiotherapy Association of BC, College of Physiotherapists of BC) and must adhere to safe practice standards.
How frequently should I get Acupuncture?
The number of treatments will vary depending on what condition is being treated. For acute injuries, only a few treatments may be required, whereas for complex or chronic issues additional sessions might be suggested.
For acute injuries we recommend multiple visits in a short time frame. For chronic conditions, we recommend two visits per week depending on the condition and its severity. The number of visits will be reduced gradually as the symptoms improve.
How safe is Acupuncture?
Complications of acupuncture are extremely rare. Acupuncture is a very safe treatment when safe practice standards are insured. The most common adverse reaction is slight bleeding or bruising at the insertion point. Your physiotherapist will review all potential complications with you before the treatment to make sure you are comfortable and fully informed.
Bahareh specializes in the treatment of chronic pain, muscular and orthopaedic injuries. She received her doctorate degree in Rehabilitation Sciences from the University of British Columbia and her Baccalaureate and Master’s degrees in Physiotherapy.