In this article I have decided to provide you with an overview of acupuncture and hopefully extinguish some of the common myths that surround the ancient procedure, whilst we delve into some of the scientific understanding behind it.
Before we start, just for those of you who have heard little to nothing about acupuncture itself:
“The practice of Acupuncture involves placing fine needles into the body in order to elicit a positive change, whether that be a local effect on a muscle, or more of a generalised whole-body effect”.
Very often as Chiropractors, we get asked “how does acupuncture work?” Firstly, it is important to recognise that acupuncture used in Western Medicine (often called dry needling) is not based on the same theories that are used in Chinese Medicine.
Chinese acupuncture suggests that by stimulating certain acupuncture points (called meridians) there will be an effect on the flow of energy (Qi) through throughout the body. We still agree that Chinese Acupuncture is effective, but the principles that date back 1000 years have not been supported by any evidence and may need modernizing! It is also worth clarifying that although western Acupucnture is referred to as ‘dry needling’, other forms of the practice do not involve using needles coated in any liquid or medicine! (The actual needles are both the same)
Western, Medical Acupuncture is commonly used to help reduce muscle tension by inserting a needle into a tight portion of a muscle, called a ‘trigger point’. When this is done, two things will happen: firstly there will be a ‘twitch response’ within the muscle. This is a very sudden contraction, which is followed by a subsequent relaxation. Interestingly, many of the Chinese meridian points that are used closely correlate with the areas that we most often use when dealing with tight, achy muscles in a western approach.
The secondary effects of inserting fine needles into tight muscles (or even non-tight areas of the body), are what really compliment the adjustments we provide as Chiropractors.
The presence of a needle within the body is strongly registered at the brain and may help to modulate the brains’ interpretation of pain (both in the short and long term). This explains why acupuncture placed in the hand for example, can help reduce one’s severity of neck pain and headaches!
The neurological effects that occur include a release of various neuro-peptides (endorphins to most of us) which not only give us that ‘feel good’ happy feeling but have a modulatory effect on pain (it reduces it). Sometimes there are also ‘unexplainable’, (but partially explainable!) improvements of other unrelated problems such as IBS or poor sleep.
The feeling that people experience when having it done is sometimes…nothing! Many people report feeling absolutely nothing when receiving acupuncture. Otherwise people frequently describe an ache, tingle or slight itching sensation in the area but most people say it does not hurt at all, so it’s a win-win.
Needling can be used in conjunction with your Chiropractic treatment and so you won’t need two separate visits- because the acupuncture perfectly complements the adjustments that we provide. Where the adjustments restore function to your spinal joints, the acupuncture can help to relax surrounding muscles and reduce the pain- they work hand in hand.
A typical course of acupuncture can be around 6-8 visits, and then once your body is in better shape it can be used on a preventative basis alongside your adjustments. It is much more beneficial for you to maintain a healthy state and your Chiropractor will give you a recommendation on what is deemed necessary to effectively do so.