Western medical acupuncture is based on a contemporary understanding of the body’s mechanisms. This practice has earned its place in modern healthcare and has been growing in sports injury management. Western medical acupuncture is used with contemporary medical diagnoses to induce physiological changes in the body, whereas traditional Chinese medical acupuncture is used with diagnoses that arise from understanding the body’s imbalances which are corrected with needles. It is very important to distinguish between the two approaches, as they are used quite differently among practitioners.
There are five mechanisms for understanding how medical acupuncture works in a manual therapy setting, such as in sports injuries and regular sprains and strains.
1) Local Effects
Acupuncture stimulates nerve fibres in the skin and muscle. When needling the skin, it has many sensory nerves that are stimulated and are interconnected within a network. When this network is stimulated, it releases a substance called calcitonin gene-related peptide (CGRP) which causes local blood vessels to expand and increase blood flow. As a result, increases in blood supply can promote local healing of injured tissue.
2) Segmental Analgesia
When an nerve is stimulated, it not only has local effects, but it has effects that reaches the spinal cord and depresses the activity in the region where pain is derived from. It is believed that this process, called, segmental analgesia, inhibits pain using the segmental region of the spinal cord. Acupuncture reduces pain in the segments where the needles are inserted.
3) Extrasegmental Analgesia
After a nerve at the segmental region is stimulated, producing pain relief, the stimulation then travels up to the brainstem, further reducing pain throughout the body. This stimulation is helpful in adding to the reduction of pain at the segment, and else where in the body.
4) Central regulatory effects
As the stimulation of an acupuncture needle can also have effects on structures within the brain. As the midbrain
5) Myofascial trigger points (TrP)
Pain can arise in many different ways, from bones, joints, strained ligaments and tendons, and of course muscles. After heavy overwork, lengthy stretch, awkward posture, muscles can develop small damaged areas that are painful and slow to heal. These small damaged areas begin to manifest into myofascial trigger points (TrP). Usually a TrP can be evident when a taut band of tissues is felt, with a tender spot and reproduced with pressure that can cause referral pain. The patient also complains of biomechanical pain when the area is moved. Acupuncture helps inactivate myofascial trigger points.
In sports injuries, our clinic uses medical acupuncture to the effect of improving tissue healing, improving the neurology of the muscles and tissue, and encouraging an oxygen rich environment for the healing tissue to work in. This often allows the patient/athlete to get back to their sport in a safer manner which is both controlled and monitored, as well as offering a preventative method to future re-injury.
Take home point: Acupuncture is a safe and effective treatment tool for sports injuries, general sprains and strains, and preventative medicine.
Dr. Nourus Yacoub, DC
Medical Director and Chiropractor
Royal Chiropractic and Sports Injury Clinic
References available upon request.