If you have suffered with pain or a lingering musculoskeletal disorder, you are not alone. Musculoskeletal conditions are the leading cause of work absenteeism in Ireland (Athritis Ireland, 2013; Health and Safety Executive, 2015) with chronic pain affecting up to one in three people (McGuire, 2011). In the UK, 9.5 million working days were lost due to work-related musculoskeletal disorders in 2014-2015 (Health and Safety Executive, 2015). This can have a big impact on professional and family life, mental health and general quality of life, but despite this it can take over four years to get a diagnosis, plus a further wait for treatment, despite medical consensus supporting an early intervention (Zheltoukhova et.al, 2012).
The health benefits of regular physical activity includes decreased risk of cardiovascular disease, diabetes, obesity, cancer and depression (World Health Organisation, 2016) and participation in sport is on the rise (Sport England, 2015; Irish Sports Council, 2011) leading to an increase in strains, sprains, and overuse injuries (Young et al., 2005). Treatments include rest, over the counter medications or exercise therapy, and acupuncture is widely used. Approximately 3.8 million acupuncture treatments are given in the United Kingdom each year of which 59% are due to musculoskeletal complaints such as back, shoulder, neck and knee pain (Hopton et al., 2012).
How Does Acupuncture Treat Musculoskeletal Injuries and Pain?
In Traditional Chinese Medicine it is said, “when there is free flow of Qi there is no pain, and when there is pain there is no free flow of Qi”. ‘Qi’ may be interpreted as a metaphor used to describe many different functions, depending on the context. Mechanical trauma or overuse can lead to inflammation, bruising, scar tissue, tension or persistent abnormal pain signals leading to pain and dysfunction. These ‘obstructions in the flow of Qi and Blood’ may be alleviated through acupuncture, moxibustion (heat), Chinese cupping therapy, electro-acupuncture and massage in order to stimulate the ‘free flow of Qi’, reduce pain and restore function.
Another Chinese concept is that of yin and yang. In a sporting context yin refers to rest and recovery, whereas yang refers to performance and competition (Reaves, 2012). Studies have demonstrated a positive effect of acupuncture on Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness (Itoh et al., 2008; Hübscher et al., 2008). Tour de France 2014 winners Team Astana employ Traditional Acupuncturist Eddie de Smedt on tour to manage stress, stomach problems, pain and recovery (Cycling News, 2014). Acupuncture is an effective intervention for a number of sports injuries (Young et al., 2005).
Acupuncture may be used on its own or as an adjunct to conventional treatments. For example, a review of all interventions for shoulder impingement found that acupuncture improved outcomes when added to exercise therapy (Dong et al., 2015). Sustained longer term benefits of acupuncture have also been linked to improved ‘self-efficacy’ (MacPherson et al., 2015). You can expect your traditional acupuncturist to give advice around exercise, stretching and lifestyle factors based on the traditional diagnosis (MacPherson & Thomas, 2008).
Where to Get Acupuncture
Private appointments are widely available at Traditional Acupuncture Clinics and fees may be covered by private health schemes. Acupuncture Foundation Professional Association registered members have undertaken training over a minimum of three years, adhere to professional guidelines and complete mandatory Continuing Professional Development training annually.
Emma Van Loock Lic.Ac ITEC.Dip (2016)
References (click "read more")
Athritis Ireland (2013) Fit for Work Ireland - Position Paper. Available from: <http://www.arthritisireland.ie/assets/66/FB6A6BFD-1221-4EA9-BBCAD491015E8636_document/FFW_pos_paper.pdf>.
Cycling News (2014) Tour de France success for Astana thanks to acupuncture? [Internet]. Available from: <http://www.cyclingnews.com/news/incycle-video-tour-de-france-success-for-astana-thanks-to-acupuncture/>.
Dong, W., Goost, H., Lin, X.-B., Burger, C., Paul, C., Wang, Z.-L., Zhang, T.-Y., Jiang, Z.-C., Welle, K. & Kabir, K. (2015) Treatments for shoulder impingement syndrome: a PRISMA systematic review and network meta-analysis. Medicine, 94 (10), p.e510.
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Hopton, A.K., Curnoe, S., Kanaan, M. & Macpherson, H. (2012) Acupuncture in practice: mapping the providers, the patients and the settings in a national cross-sectional survey. BMJ Open, 2 (1), pp.e000456–e000456.
Hübscher, M., Vogt, L., Bernhörster, M., Rosenhagen, A. & Banzer, W. (2008) Effects of Acupuncture on Symptoms and Muscle Function in Delayed-Onset Muscle Soreness. The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine, 14 (8), pp.1011–1016.
Irish Sports Council (2011) Irish Sports Monitor 2011 Annual Report.
Itoh, K., Ochi, H. & Kitakoji, H. (2008) Effects of tender point acupuncture on delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS)--a pragmatic trial. Chinese medicine, 3, p.14.
MacPherson, H. & Thomas, K. (2008) Self-help advice as a process integral to traditional acupuncture care: implications for trial design. Complementary therapies in medicine, 16 (2), pp.101–106.
MacPherson, H., Tilbrook, H., Richmond, S., Woodman, J., Ballard, K., Atkin, K., Bland, M., Eldred, J., Essex, H., Hewitt, C., Hopton, A., Keding, A., Lansdown, H., Parrott, S., Torgerson, D., Wenham, A. & Watt, I. (2015) Alexander Technique Lessons or Acupuncture Sessions for Persons With Chronic Neck Pain. Annals of Internal Medicine, 163 (9), p.653.
McGuire, D.B. (2011) Pain in Ireland. Galway.
Reaves, W. (2012) Acupuncture and the Athlete [Internet]. Available from: <https://www.acsm.org/public-information/articles/2012/01/19/acupuncture-and-the-athlete> [Accessed 6 February 2016].
Sport England (2015) Who Plays Sport? [Internet]. Available from: <http://www.sportengland.org/research/who-plays-sport/>.
World Health Organisation (2016) Physical Activity [Internet].
Young, K., Canney, S. & Bovey, M. (2005) Sports Injuries and Acupuncture: The Evidence for Effectiveness.
Zheltoukhova, Ksenia, O’Dea, Lisa, Bevan, S. (2012) Taking the strain : The impact of musculoskeletal disorders on work and home life Ksenia Zheltoukhova. Available from: <http://www.theworkfoundation.com/Reports/326/Taking-the-strain-The-impact-of-musculoskeletal-disorders-on-work-and-home-life>.