What conditions can be treated with acupuncture?

Acupuncture: a treatment you’ve heard lots about but never actually tried for yourself. Colleagues, friends, and even family members have raved about how helpful it’s been for them. Some say it has cured their pain completely, while others might not have had the same success. What conditions can be treated with acupuncture, and how do you know if it’s working? There are so many mixed reviews about acupuncture, it can be hard to tell if it’s really having an effect or if it’s just a placebo. Today we’ll talk about what acupuncture is exactly, what conditions it can be used for, and how you can tell if it’s working.

What is acupuncture?

Acupuncture is a treatment technique from Traditional Chinese Medicine that involves the use of very thin needles to puncture certain areas of the human body. In the theory of Traditional Chinese Medicine there are meridians throughout the body. These meridians are considered to be pathways through which blood and Qi are circulated. Qi is considered a fundamental substance constituting the universe.

An easy way to understand Qi is to think of it like energy. In the theory of Traditional Chinese Medicine changes and movements of Qi are responsible for producing all natural phenomena. For example, injuries and illnesses are theorized to be a result of changes or disruptions in one’s Qi. Thus, restoring one’s Qi is an important component to treating their injury or illness. Acupuncture is used to restore or alter someone’s Qi.

In Traditional Chinese Medicine the needles will be inserted at specific acupuncture points that are located along the meridians of the human body. Since the Qi is thought to be flowing through the meridians, this will alter it, thus having a therapeutic effect. While these concepts are the foundation of acupuncture, Western adoption has taken a different theoretical approach in explaining its effectiveness.

The Western approach to acupuncture proposes mechanisms that are quite different from the Traditional Chinese Medicine theory. These mechanisms are primarily based on measurable changes in the human body in response to acupuncture. Inserting a needle into the body creates a cascade of biological effects. The body detects a foreign object causing microtrauma, which leads to increased blood flow to that area. The body also releases endogenous opioids (natural pain killers) in response to the injury, and some studies have even shown a local reduction in inflammation following acupuncture. It is thought that these mechanisms are what can lead to the widespread success of acupuncture in pain management.

What conditions can be treated with acupuncture?

As discussed above, the primary mechanisms of acupuncture that can be measured show significant effects for pain management. In Western medicine pain management is the primary goal of acupuncture, while in Traditional Chinese Medicine pain as well as other illnesses may be treated with acupuncture.

In most cases of musculoskeletal injury, acupuncture can be used as a treatment intervention. In cases of illness or disease, Western practitioners such as physiotherapists will not be able to use acupuncture outside of pain management, as it is outside of their scope of practice. However, an acupuncturist who practices Traditional Chinese Medicine may treat illness or disease with goals outside of reducing pain (e.g. treating a cold or flu).

There are also certain circumstances where acupuncture may not be a good treatment option. Some of the contraindications to acupuncture include bleeding disorders, pregnancy (for certain body parts), and fear of needles. Acupuncture generally doesn’t hurt, but because it does involve a needle it can be painful in some regions of the body. Usually a slight heaviness or achiness will be felt but sometimes the pain can be more significant.

How do I know acupuncture is working?

Since acupuncture is primarily used for pain management in Western medicine, you’ll know it’s working if your pain decreases. It can also take multiple sessions of acupuncture before you notice a significant improvement in pain, so don’t give up hope if you don’t notice huge improvements after the first session! That being said, it’s important to have a treatment approach that includes other interventions in addition to acupuncture.

Remember, acupuncture is a great tool for pain management, but it doesn’t address the root of the issue. It may help to decrease your pain, but if the main contributors to your pain are not addressed, it may resurface later on.

Still not sure what to expect with acupuncture? Call us at 519-895-2020, or use our online booking tool on www.strivept.ca to book an appointment with one of our knowledgeable physiotherapists, and they will be sure to help you understand your injury. 


Liam Newlands
Physiotherapist at Strive Physiotherapy and Performance

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