by Dr. Julia Gonen, N.D.
Acupuncture is one of my favourite modalities for treating many conditions. Over the years, I've not only seen, but also experienced, fantastic results using acupuncture, including healing of my recent shoulder injury. I've treated a wide array of acute and chronic conditions using acupuncture (often in conjunction with nutrition and other treatments) including musculoskeletal issues, migraines, digestive problems, to boost the effectiveness of IVF treatments, for fertility issues, menstrual pain and irregularities, and other hormonal imbalances. I've also treated patients with cosmetic acupuncture (aka Facial Rejuvenation Acupuncture) to reduce fine lines, improve skin tone, and stimulate collagen production naturally...
What exactly is acupuncture?
Acupuncture is an ancient healing technique used for thousands of years. There is evidence that it was first used by making needles from animal bones. This technique has been refined over millennia to become what it is today. Acupuncture is the insertion of very fine, stainless steel, single use needles into both specific anatomical points and also trigger points (points of tenderness or pain) through the skin to various depths depending on the internal structures.
How does acupuncture work?
I get this question a lot.
In Traditional Chinese Medicine (how I was taught) there are meridians that run throughout the body - like highways. Inserting acupuncture needles corrects imbalances in the flow of energy in the meridians, called qi. Think of it as clearing a blockage or traffic jam somewhere along a meridian, where the needles act to keep the traffic or qi and blood flowing freely.
In scientific terms, acupuncture eases pain by affecting neurotransmitters, inflammatory chemical signals, hormone levels, and the immune system. Endorphins are released during acupuncture, which can also reduce pain and leave you feeling great. Acupuncture points in the meridians stimulate large nerve fibres, which can then block pain signals to the brain. Acupuncture also induces parasympathetic activity (rest & digest - the opposite of our fight or flight stress response) and make us feel calm and relaxed. There is still no one definitive answer as to how or why it works and there continues to be more research into these mechanisms, but what matters is that is does work.
A study recently released this year showed that electroacupuncture triggers a neurological mechanism that can help promote tissue repair and relieve injury-induced pain via stimulating the release of stem cells from the central nervous system. Interestingly, NSAIDs (ibuprofen and the like) actually do the opposite - they shut down the release of stems cells thus preventing healing of an injury potentially leading to chronic dysfunction.
The benefits of acupuncture are clear and the potential risk or side effects are very low, making it an ideal partner with Crossfit to approach pain, inflammation and other conditions. Acupuncture is great after a long week of hitting it hard in the gym whether it's to treat an injury, pain, the feeling of being "off", or simply for the benefits of the calming effect on the nervous system, endorphin release, and anti-inflammatory effects.
Some conditions acupuncture can treat include:
- DOMS (delayed onset muscle soreness) - what I’m currently experiencing in my hamstrings from those tempoed kettlebell RDLs we just did!
- Migraines & headaches
- Tight muscles
- Minor tears - acupuncture doesn't directly heal or repair tears, but can help to increase local circulation and release chemicals & stem cells that act to heal tissue and decrease pain.
- Speeding up recovery & help with effects of overtraining
- Chronic back, neck, shoulder or joint pain
- Abdominal pain
- Menstrual issues
- Stress, anxiety and depression
and so much more…
How often is acupuncture needed?
This really depends on how serious or chronic the condition is that we are treating, and the way in which you respond as an individual. Twice weekly treatments are ideal until you start to see a benefit then gradually, we lengthen the time between treatments. Like any other modality, one treatment is usually not enough for long term change (especially for more serious or long standing conditions), but it is definitely possible to get immediate relief and reap the benefits of the calm and relaxing effects, but more treatments are usually needed.
I could go on and on about the numerous studies showing benefits for various conditions and how acupuncture performs just as well or better than various drugs for anxiety/depression, pain etc… The WHO (World Health Organization) lists at least 28 conditions for which acupuncture is effective. Try it for yourself!
Even if you already see a chiropractor or are doing physiotherapy or massage, you can add acupuncture into the mix to speed up healing and for the positive effects. If you have seen another TCM practitioner, Physiotherapist or Chiropractor for acupuncture, you can maximize your benefits and continue care with me since my services are covered under Naturopathic care for extended healthcare insurance purposes.