What is Acupuncture?

Unlike the practice of acupuncture, the word acupuncture  is only just over 300 years old. It is derived from the latin words acus meaning needle and punct meaning to puncture.  It is thought that acupuncture was first practiced in some form in China over 2000 years ago, but it is not really known how it started. There are many legends and stories of how it began, but certainly it has been practiced in the east for a very long time, spreading to India, Japan and other Asian countries. Acupuncture has been practiced in the West for a few hundred years and has gained increasing popularity in the mid to late 1900’s. Acupuncture refers to the insertion of extremely fine sterile needles into the body to relieve pain, or help cure an illness. There are a number of different styles of Acupuncture. The two most common in New Zealand are Traditional Chinese Acupuncture and Western Medical Acupuncture, which we practice at Milford Physiotherapy. Traditional Chinese Acupuncture forms a large part of the basis of Traditional Chinese Medicine and has it’s own diagnosis methods and classification of disease, which is very different from that of the Western view. Although we do use the same points on the Meridians, our philosophy for choosing a point has it’s basis in Western neurophysiology and orthopedic diagnosis, rather than the traditional Chinese method of diagnosis

We may use a variety of other techniques during your treatment program including cupping, electro-acupuncture and acupressure. All of our needles are pre-sterilised, single use needles. We use the narrowest, high quality gauge needle we can. During an acupuncture session needle may be left in for up to 30 minutes and may be stimulated with twisting or pushing/pulling gently until the patient feels a sensation (Qi). This can be sometimes a dull ache, or tingling, heaviness, warmth or numbness. Acupuncture is not meant to be painful, rather it should be pleasant comfortable experience. Acupuncture in the context of physiotherapy is rarely used as a stand alone treatment, rather as a modality of treatment within a package of treatment based on sound clinical reasoning including exercises, education, lifestyle advice, and other modalities such as massage, manipulation, stretching, and balance or coordination training amongst others.

Western or Medical Acupuncture:

Western acupuncture uses  meridian points but the choice of those points is based in Western scientific clinical reasoning and a thorough knowledge of anatomy, neurophysiology, orthopaedic diagnosis . The most common reason we choose acupuncture as a treatment modality is for pain relief by stimulating of the nervous system. In response to the correct stimulation the brain and spinal cord will produce chemicals such as endorphins which produce pain relief, melatonin which will promote sleep (many people feel very relaxed or tired after acupcunture treatment) and serotonin which can induce a feeling of well being.  These and other neuro-peptides also assist in the healing process and so local needling close to the site of a chronic or stubborn injury may be used to promote and stimulate this healing chemical soup. We use our in depth and comprehensive knowledge of neuro-anatomy to select acupuncture points that stimulate the correct nerve endings to relieve pain and increase healing for your particular problem.

Dry Needling or Trigger Point Acupuncture:

The use of a needle or injection to relieve the pain of “trigger points” in muscles associated with myofascial pain has been around since the Chinese used acupuncture needles to treat “Ah Shi” or “painful” points. In the West interest in the techniques was really stimulated by the late incredible Dr Janet Travell, who really pioneered, published and promoted the existence of trigger points, myofascial pain, pain referral from muscle and their treatment with needling from the late 19940’s until the early part of this century.  Trigger point needling differs from Western and Traditional Chinese acupuncture in that it pays no heed whatsoever to the meridians, but simply focuses on painful, dysfunctional muscle and fascia.

The needles are only left in the affected muscle for a short time, after initial insertion we often push the needle it in and out rapidly until a twitch or several twitches are felt in the muscle. This is commonly followed by a significant relaxation of the muscle.  Multiple trigger points are often needled in a session and the treatment is usually followed up by stretching and heat therapy. This technique can be very effective at reducing pain and improving muscular function. If you are interested in trigger point dry needling talk to one of the physiotherapists about the technique.