Acupuncture is an ancient healing tool used by Chinese Medicine therapists in conjunction with tongue and pulse diagnosis with a view to balancing energies in the body. Adaptations of traditional Chinese medicine approaches have occurred over the last 50 years in western societies using a more scientific approach. There has been some controversy regarding the use of certain Chinese herbs due to some serious potential side effects. This has been highlighted in recent years in the Australian Medicine Journal and suggests some caution be used in adopting traditional Chinese methods. There is little scientific evidence that pulse or tongue assessment is useful. On the other hand there are several scientific studies showing the insertion of fine needles in and around areas of pain can help block pain and reduce muscle tension.
The insertion of the needles without the Chinese diagnostic approach is also known as “Dry Needling”. The needles used in both approaches are the same, but different points in the body are targeted in each approach.
Fine (sterile / single use) needles are tapped virtually painlessly into the skin, sometimes through a plastic tube. After insertion the needles may be stimulated – either by twisting manually or using electrical stimulation. A feeling of heaviness, numbness or tingling may be felt in the area.
The mechanism of action is not clear but extensive research has shown that dry needling stimulates very fine nerve endings in the body. This causes a local pain blocking effect and also results in the release of pain relieving hormones from the brain, which induces changes in blood chemistry to further reduce pain and potentially influence healing. The insertion of needles into tight muscles also has a local relaxation effect.
The Chinese Medical Association has now placed restrictions on who can administer “Traditional Acupuncture” and who can call themselves an “Acupuncturist”. All of our practitioners practicing dry needling have undergone post graduate courses in the use and safety of inserting needles – but none are registered as “Acupuncturists”.
Particularly painful musculoskeletal conditions – for example migraine, neck and back pain, arthritis, fibromyalgia and other non specific pain syndromes may be responsive. Dry needling can compliment physiotherapy, massage and exercise programs and can be used with prescribed medications. A course usually consists of once to twice weekly therapy for up to 10 treatments and some people will require regular maintenance. There are no age limits to treatment.
Side effects are few when practiced by a qualified therapist. The use of sterilised disposable needles eliminates the possibility of cross-infection. Some minor local redness and occasionally minor bruising may appear after acupuncture. When needles are inserted around the chest region there is a small possibility of puncturing of the chest wall and the lung, which may lead to acute shortness of breath. This should be immediately reported to your doctor.
Your therapist at Brighton Spine and Sports Clinic may combine other treatments such as stretching exercises, manual therapy, Pilates strengthening, pain modifying drugs and other types of injections.
Some people have a dramatic response to dry needling and so it should not be a “last resort” therapy. It is not possible to predict who may respond to therapy – usually 4 sessions are sufficient to judge whether a response is likely.