Acupuncture, a part of Traditional Chinese Medicine, is the insertion of fine needles into points of the body. Traditional Chinese Medicine is outside the scope of this article, so we will discuss acupuncture and how it is used in modern day physiotherapy practice.

Musculoskeletal acupuncture is mainly used to treat pain. There are two main effects that are at play when you have this type of acupuncture – local and central effects.

Acupuncture for back pain

Acupuncture for back pain.

Local effects

The insertion of the needle has numerous local effects. The insertion of a foreign object in to a muscle or tendon will increase blood flow to that area. The blood flow increases the delivery of oxygen and nutrients to that area, and removal of waste from that area. This is aimed at speeding up and aiding injury healing. There is also increased cellular activity in the area where the needle is inserted. These cells could be fibroblasts that produce collagen or macrophages, an immune cell, that clears inflammation and debris.

The insertion of the needle can also mechanically stimulate the muscles into which it has been inserted, this stimulation, often referred to as dry needling, can be quite painful and is believe to mechanically deactivate tension points in the muscles.

We also know that acupuncture causes stretching of the fascia that can aid tissue healing and flexibility.

Central effects

MRI studies have demonstrated that acupuncture changes the activity in the brain. One of the areas that is affected is the pain areas. Pain is a multimodal output from the brain, and acupuncture can modulate this output, thus reducing the pain that you experience.

The second main central effect that acupuncture stimulates is the production of brain chemicals. These include endorphins, endomorphins and serotonin. These chemicals make you feel happier, more relaxed and experience less pain.

Acupuncture is very useful for low back pain and sciatica, neck pain, frozen shoulder, tennis elbow and runners knee. It usually takes a number of sessions to see a marked improvement in symptoms.

Acupuncture can be a little uncomfortable – you will feel a scratch as the needle goes through the skin and with the right needle stimulation you will feel a sensation of ache where the needle has been inserted – but it is not extremely painful or as bad as an injection or blood draw.

It is not unusual to feel a little tender where the needles were inserted for about 24 hours after the session. This is quite normal and that sensation will pass.

Dry needling

Dry needling is a form of acupuncture where needles are inserted into trigger points in the muscles. Trigger points are painful taught palpable tension points in muscles commonly described by people as ‘knots’. Needling them causes a muscle fibre contraction after which the muscle relaxes.

The dry needling technique also stimulates blow flow into the area, and stimulates the brain to releases endomorphins, your own natural painkillers, thus having an analgesic effect. If you do not like acupuncture you can request for it not to be performed.

Is my acupuncturist qualified and insured?

Yes, acupuncture is best practiced by a suitably qualified and insured acupuncture professional. Steve has practiced acupuncture for 10 years, is a member of the Acupuncture Association of Chartered Physiotherapists (AACP) and trained in cosmetic acupuncture by The College of Chinese Medicine.