How Does Medical Acupuncture Work?

I say Medical Acupuncture (MA) because that is the terminology used to differentiate the acupuncture we do from the traditional Chinese medicine (TCM).

So in our field of work, we tend to treat the muscular conditions that present from a number of different pathological conditions, and MA can be a very effective method of treatment.

Suz mentioned trigger points on her post.  Ideally, when we use MA within a treatment, we are looking to locate a trigger point or point of tension within the muscle, in able to get the greatest effect from the treatment.  We have active and latent trigger points, the latter are usually only tender when proded, where an active is usually painful most of the time.  Latent trigger points have usually been there for quite some time.

So what happens when we insert the needle?

When we insert a needle, we are ideally looking for what we call the twitch response.  The twitch response is the muscle fibres of the muscle reacting to the needle.  A muscle mainly does two things, contracts and relaxes.  Usually, when we have a trigger point, the muscle is in a contracted (tense) position and needs to relax.  Normally our brain sends messages to our muscles to stimulate them to do what we want, consciously or subconsciously (but let’s save that for another post!), however due to our body’s own defence mechanism sometimes the muscles wont relax.  So inserting the needle basically allows us to manually stimulate the muscle fibres and force the muscle to relax, as it can no longer sustain the contracted position.  

How long do we leave the needles in?

When a muscle stops twitching when the needle is stimulated, it means it’s time to remove the needle, and the needle is no longer having an effect on the muscle.  This varies every time we use MA and can range from 1 minute to 30 minutes.

Redness around the needles – so i mentioned our body’s own defence mechanism earlier.  The body has its own inflammatory response which is something that helps us fight off infection or repair.  When a needle is inserted, we initiate an inflammatory response also.  This in turn helps boost the circulations in the area, vasodilation of the blood cells allow for nutrients to be passed to and from any damaged cells more readily.  Our body’s own natural pain killers are also released in the area, helping to reduce the pain signals being sent to the brain.

So in turn, medical acupuncture can be an extremely useful form of treatment for a number of pathological conditions.  Different practioners may use MA before soft tissue work, or after, or in its own, and there is no right or wrong, it is generally based on previous effects and assessment of the patient.

Within our training for MA we are taught to use different needling techniques for different areas of the body, and there are certain areas we will avoid for safety reasons.  

For me as a practitioner, I find MA a very effective form of treatment and it allows me to treat patients who are sometimes very acute and can’t bear the thought of having to lie face down on the treatment couch for various reasons, to day to day muscular tensions.

If there is anything I haven’t covered or haven’t explained then please ask, but I hope it helps clarify how it works and why we use it!

Written by Jayne Ritchie