Jenny Blizzard, physio and running expert speaking on behalf of everyday healthcare company Simplyhealth, explains the practice of acupuncture and why it’s an effective treatment for people looking to stay active.
Acupuncture is one of the many skills used within physiotherapy as an integrated approach to the management of pain and inflammation. It is used as a means of stimulating the body’s own healing chemicals in order to aid recovery and enhance rehabilitation alone, or in conjunction with manual or exercise therapy.
Acupuncture involves needles being inserted at certain “acupuncture” points to restore the balance of energy or “Qi” (pronounced “chee”), which when unbalanced is believed to cause pain and illness. Points are chosen based on the 12 major meridians (energy channels) along the body linked to internal organs and systems and an understanding of physiology.
Dry needling, or trigger point acupuncture, is becoming increasingly popular in the sporting world due to the swift effect it has on pain arising from tense muscle and myofascial tissue.
A trigger point is a hypersensitive region within a muscle or myofascial region characterized by pain and tautness on palpation. Pain is typically referred into a distal area remote from the source.
As an example, you may have heel pain but the source of the pain could be high up in your adductor muscle (groin). Secondary trigger points may be present in all muscles supplied by the same nerve.
In the sciatic nerve pathway for instance, you could have pain referring from the piriformis, hamstring and calf mimicking sciatica. In this example, releasing one trigger point can have a knock-on effect on simultaneously releasing others too, hence why treatment can be effective and swift.
How does it work?
Studies have shown that needling deactivates the trigger point and facilitates the muscle to relax and lengthen, alleviating the original problem area as well as secondary areas. The physical act of needling into the myofascial or muscle tissue and stimulating it by twisting the needle provides a stretching of the tissue in relation to the surrounding areas, allowing independent gliding and therefore release of taut tissue.
What to expect from dry needling treatment
As the needles are inserted a slight pin-prick sensation may be felt, followed by a deep ache, tingling, warmth and mild discomfort. This is a positive response as it shows that the body’s pain relief mechanisms have been stimulated.
If the therapist is needling into a trigger point then a local twitch response (muscle jumps) may be felt along with a referred pain sensation, which indicates the needle is in the affected area. Needles are left in place for up to 25 minutes depending on the feel for muscle release. You are encouraged to keep the muscle mobile afterwards to maintain the benefits.
Ensure that you receive treatment from a qualified physiotherapist with post-graduate training in acupuncture, as it can have negative consequences when applied inappropriately. Expertise in treatment requires a good working knowledge of anatomy, particularly in muscle and nerve pathways.
Simplyhealth is title partner of the Great Run Series and is supporting runners every step of the way by helping people make the most of life through better everyday health. For more training advice, please visit www.greatrun.org/training-simplyhealth