What Is Acupuncture?
Acupuncture is one of the many skills employed within physiotherapy as part of an integrated approach to the management of pain and inflammation. Physiotherapists base their treatments on scientific research and clinical evidence that Acupuncture can reduce pain by stimulating the brain and spinal cord to produce natural pain-relieving chemicals such as endorphins, melatonin (which promotes sleep) and serotonin (to promote well-being), to name but a few. These chemicals assist the body’s healing processes and offer pain relief as a precursor to other treatments such as manual therapy or exercise in order to aid recovery.
Acupuncture forms part of traditional Chinese medicine (TCM). This ancient system of medicine dates back as far as 1000 years BC and is based on a holistic concept of treatment which regards ill health as a manifestation of imbalance in the body’s energy. Re-establishing a correct balance is the aim of TCM. Energy is referred to as Qi, (pronounced chee) and is described in terms of Yin energy – quiet and calm and Yang energy –vigorous and exciting. They are complementary opposites and in health exist in a dynamic but balanced state in the body. Practitioners of TCM believe that stimulating certain Acupuncture points on the body can help to restore the balance between Yin and Yang that becomes disturbed in illness.
AACP members combine TCM principles with scientific evidence as a means of reducing pain and promoting healing, always with the aim of enhancing physiotherapy treatments such as exercise and rehabilitation techniques to promote recovery and improve quality of life.
There are several techniques for applying acupuncture and these are described below:
- 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 these points on the basis of an assessment of the cause of the imbalance. A number of needles may be used during each treatment, and these are typically left in position for between 20 and 30 minutes before being removed.
- Trigger point acupuncture – may also be used to facilitate relaxation in specific muscles following traumas, for longer-term unresolved muscle pain, or as a means of increasing muscle length in order to aid stretch and rehabilitation. In the latter case, the needle is inserted into the affected muscle until the tissue is felt to relax under the needle, which is then removed. Trigger point needling often produces an effect much more quickly, and therefore, does not require the 20–30-minute treatment time.
- Acupressure – In acupressure treatment, physiotherapists use their hands to activate acupuncture or trigger points in order to relieve muscle tightness, or to stimulate Qi flow and balance the body. It is a healing art in which the fingers are applied to key acupuncture points. The amount of pressure used varies according to the condition and requires trained, sensitive hands. It is often used to treat patients who are sensitive, those with a phobia of needles, children and frail people.
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