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Acupuncture and Physiotherapy

Increasingly , acupuncture is becoming more widely used and accepted throughout the medical community. Many physiotherapists offer acupuncture as a treatment modality in conjunction with traditional physiotherapy management.  Physiotherapists who practice acupuncture go through post-graduate training of one to two years duration in order to become qualified acupuncturists.

Acupuncture involves inserting fine needles into specific points located throughout the body to help relieve pain or have other therapeutic effects. Acupuncture originated in China some 5000 years ago, one belief is that soldiers who were wounded in battle experienced pain relief in other areas of their body, this lead to experimenting with arrows, sharp rocks and later, needles.

The traditional Chinese belief of health is based on a balance of yin and yang throughout the body.  The ancient Chinese people used to pay their doctors to keep them well, rather than to help fix them once they became ill.  The Chinese believe energy flows through the body between the organs along channels called meridians.  Acupuncture points are located along these meridians.

There are many modern theories as to why acupuncture works and there has been much scientific research carried out to help prove these theories. The ‘gate control’ theory involves acupuncture stimulating large, touch sensitive nerve fibres located throughout the skin and connective tissue, these override and can block the transmission of the smaller, pain nerve fibres at the level of the spinal cord, helping to reduce the sensation of pain. The neuro-endocrine theory works on the fact that acupuncture points are located close to nerve endings. When stimulated, these release certain neurotransmitters such as endorphin, a natural painkiller that resembles as opiates(i.e. Morphine).  These neurotransmitters are similar to ones released when we exercise and can have an effect of reducing the transmission of pain messages to the brain.

What can you expect from an acupuncture treatment? Pain relief may be immediate or develop over a few hours or days. Acupuncture often has a cumulative effect, with  pain relieving affects building up over a series of treatments. There are some side-effects, mostly they are rare, but can include light-headedness, dizziness, tiredness, slight bruising or muscle aching after treatment. Your physiotherapist will discuss these with you before treatment.

A number of disposable needles (3-5) may be used in each treatment, with treatment time usually lasting 15-20 minutes.  The needles used are extremely fine and usually cause little or no discomfort.

Acupuncture has a variety of uses in clinical physiotherapy practice and complements traditional physical therapy techniques.  Conditions commonly treated include osteoarthritis, muscle spasm, headaches, low back and joint sprains.

Philippa King is a physiotherapist at the Oamaru Physiotherapy clinic.  She is undertaking postgraduate study in Sports Medicine and Acupuncture.   Philippa is actively involved with North Otago Rugby, providing physiotherapy services for the Heartland team.

Source:  Oamaru Physiotherapy Clinic written by Mike Stewart and Michelle Sintmaartensdyk

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