Acupuncture is one of the many skills used within physiotherapy as an integrated approach to the management of pain and inflammation and as a means of stimulating the body’s own healing chemicals in order to aid recovery and enhance rehabilitation.
Acupuncture within physiotherapy is implemented in accordance with clinical and research evidence. Western medical acupuncture was later derived from Traditional Chinese Medicine [TCM] which is an ancient system of medicine which dates as far back as 1000BC. TCM founded the concept of treating specific points along the body where unseen energy pathways could be stimulated with a needle to effect energy (qi) within the body in order to support the body back to optimal health.
In order for the body to work in harmony there are a number of systems which must be healthy and well balanced. Acupuncture treatments can aid in restoring the body back to health (homeostasis). This is achieved by your clinician understanding your medical history in order to prescribe a treatment plan to treat the source of imbalance with the correct acupuncture points.
The body has an innate ability to self repair. the use of Acupuncture, Acupressure or Electro-Acupuncture enhances these natural self repair mechanisms to enhance recovery and improve repair timeframes. Acupuncture alsos works in conjunction with other physiotherapy modalities, such as exercise and conditioning.
Acupuncture needles stimulate the flow of energy, known as Qi [pronounced ‘chee’] which circulates in pathways (meridians) within the body. The Qi circulates and connects the deeper tissues and organs of the body with the more superficial layers and the skin. In a healthy body, a balance exists between these different systems, both the superficial and deeper levels. An imbalance can however negatively effect these systems and cause a host of symptoms and challenges. Acupuncture can positively influence these imbalances by the insertion and stimulation of needles within the body and restore the balance. If injury, disease, emotional trauma or infection occurs, the natural flow of energy/Qi within the pathways/meridians are affected. Interruptions in the energy pathways can cause a stagnation, much like putting a cork in a bottle and this can result in pain and inflammation. Using acupuncture in this case would free the stagnation and restore the free-flow of energy, reducing pain and eradicating inflammation.
Advanced members of the AACP are quaified to practice traditional chinese acupuncture (TCM) to treat more complex conditions with varying causations.
Conventional Acupuncture involves the use of single use, pre-sterilised, disposable needles of varying widths, lengths and materials that pierce the skin at the Acupuncture points. The Physiotherapist will determine the locations of the Acupuncture points, based upon the 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 some 20-30 minutes before being removed.
Trigger point Acupuncture may also be used to facilitate relaxation in specific muscles following trauma such as whiplash injury; for longer term unresolving muscle pain such as repetitive strain injury (RSI) or as a means to obtain increased muscle length in order to aid stretch and rehabilitation such as sports injuries . Here the needle is placed into the affected muscle until it is felt to relax under the needle and then removed. Trigger point needling is often much quicker and therefore does not require the 20-30 minute treatment time.
Acupressure uses the Physiotherapist’s hands over Acupuncture or trigger points in order to relieve muscle tightness or to stimulate QI flow and balance the body. It is a healing art that uses the fingers of the Physiotherapist on the key Acupuncture points. The amount of pressure used varies according to the condition and requires trained, sensitive hands. It is often used with sensitive patients, patients with a needle phobia , children or frail patients.
Laser is the acronym for Light Amplification by Stimulated Emission of Radiation and the use of Lasers to effect treatment is known as low-level laser therapy [LLT] [Baxter 1994].
Laser stimulation may be used to effect any Acupuncture treatment for which needles are typically used. It is particularly suited for nervous patients, children, sports injuries, sensitive areas and ears.
Laser Acupuncture may be available from Physiotherapists who are fully trained in the correct application and contra-indications of laser therapy.
Moxabustion and Cupping are techniques used to introduce warmth into the Acupuncture points, either at the end of the Acupuncture needle in the case of Moxabustion, or to areas which require increased stimulation of QI flow in the case of cupping. These enhancements have the effect of increasing the circulation, removing waste products, reducing muscle spasm and pain.
They may also be used as precursor to the Physiotherapist stretching the damaged tissue or mobilising a joint. Conditions treated with the techniques include Osteo-Arthritis, areas of poor QI flow or cold conditions.
Following the detailed physiotherapy assessment, inserted needles can be coupled to the electrodes of an electro-acupuncture apparatus. These units are designed to deliver variable amplitudes and frequencies of electrical impulses. Low frequency electro-acupuncture is intended to contribute to the mechanism of pain reduction, especially stimulating chemicals from the brain which will aid analgesia, relaxation and sleep.
It is particularly useful in the more chronic pain problems and sits against a background of research to support its use. Your Physiotherapist may use TENS machines over specific acupuncture points in order to help this mechanism and enhance the pain modulation.