Acupuncture is a safe and effective technique that combines both traditional Chinese medicine with Western science. The technique involves the painless insertion of very fine needles into the skin through specific acupuncture points on the body to achieve a therapeutic effect. Research shows that acupuncture can act as an anti-inflammatory to help reduce swelling and pain and promote healing. Conditions such as low back pain, joint pain, muscle pain or tension, whiplash, sciatica and headaches are just some of the ailments that can respond very well to acupuncture.

Acupuncture is one of the many skills used within physiotherapy as an integrated approach to the management of pain, inflammation and as a means of enhancing the body’s own healing chemicals in order to aid recovery and rehabilitation.

Physiotherapy aims to restore balance and facilitate the body’s own healing responses. The body has the ability to self-repair; however, the use of Acupuncture aids the repair mechanism and enables an improved recovery time allowing other physiotherapy techniques such as specific exercises, muscle strengthening and rehabilitation to take place.

Since 1982 when the Chartered Society of Physiotherapists approved it, there has been a growing adoption of acupuncture by physiotherapists as an adjunctive skill for pain relief. Since Acupuncture emerged as an independent profession in the UK over 100 years ago, physiotherapy has adapted and evolved its treatment techniques and increased the range and number of patients it can help.

There are two broad concepts to Acupuncture treatment, the Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) approach which takes its origin from traditional Chinese medicine and the more recent Western acupuncture, based on the basic sciences of anatomy, physiology and pathology. 

How does Acupuncture work?

There are many forces within the body that require balance in order to achieve health and fitness; two forces that are commonly referred to in Acupuncture are YIN (negative) and YANG (positive). Treatment with Acupuncture is undertaken with the aim of restoring all the body systems to a state of balance. This is achieved by an in-depth physiotherapy assessment to determine the source of the imbalance and the correct acupuncture points required to address the imbalance and help the body’s return to a state of balanced health, both physically and mentally.

Why is acupuncture used?

Acupuncture is used by physiotherapists as a means of enhancing pain control via the stimulation of the brain and spinal cord to produce natural pain relieving chemicals, such as endorphins to boost mood, melatonin to promote sleep and serotonin to promote well being, to name a few. These chemicals assist the body’s healing process and offer pain relief to then enable other manual or exercise therapy to be used in treatment. Acupuncture is also thought to relieve tiredness and improve the body’s natural immune system.

What does acupuncture do?

The Acupuncture needle stimulates the flow of QI (pronounced ‘chee’), which circulates in channels or meridians within the body. The QI circulates within the deeper organs of the body, but connects to the superficial skin. In a healthy body, a balance exists between these systems. Both the superficial energy and the deeper energy can be influenced by the stimulation of specific acupuncture points. In the presence of injury, disease, emotional trauma or infection, the natural flow of QI within the meridians can well be affected, resulting in an altered flow, either a slowing or stagnation of QI causing pain and inflammation or a deficit of QI, which may cause weakness, exhaustion and longer debilitating diseases. The stimulation of relevant acupuncture points may free stagnation, reduce excess or increase levels of QI to the specific area and thus restore normal QI flow and balance.

How is acupuncture performed?

Acupuncture involves the use of single use, sterile, disposable needles of varying widths, lengths and materials that pierce the skin at potentially more than 2,000 specific Acupuncture points. The physiotherapist will determine the location of the Acupuncture points along the meridian lines of the body, based upon their assessment of the cause of the imbalance. A number of needles may be used at each treatment and these are typically left in position for 20 to 30 minutes before being removed.

Trigger point Acupuncture may be used to facilitate relaxation in specific muscles following trauma, such as whiplash injury, for unresolved muscle pain such as repetitive strain injury (RSI) or as a means to obtain increased muscle length in order to aid stretch and rehabilitation from sports injuries. The needled is placed into the affected muscle until it is felt to relax under the needle and then the needle is removed.

How can acupuncture help me?

Acupuncture has provided positive results for marathon runners during their training, including treatment of overuse injuries, joint pains and stiffness. It also helps improve energy and overall wellness. Post-race Acupuncture treatment helps speed recovery, reduce inflammation and alleviate soreness.

It has been widely and successfully used in the treatment of headaches, primarily focusing on tension-type headaches but also for the treatment of migraines.

Low back pain is a major health problem with a wide prevalence. If conventional physiotherapy treatments do not reduce pain and restore normal function, Acupuncture may be helpful. Research has demonstrated that needling has a higher success rate in cases of chronic low back pain, i.e. longer than 3 months, as opposed to acute cases (less than 6 weeks).

Shoulder pain with subsequent restriction of movement is a common problem in both those taking part in sporting activities and the general population.

For more details on how Acupuncture may help you, do discuss this option with your physiotherapist, as it may be a technique that can enhance your pain relief and recovery.