Acupuncture At Work and Play

Acupuncture At Work and Play:

Research on Acupuncture Shows It Can Help Sport & Office InjuriesAcupuncture is an ancient Chinese medical therapy which works to encourage the body to heal itself. In providing treatment an acupuncturist uses small needles on parts of the body.

Acupuncture can be used in two ways to treat injuries, either by treating the injured area only, or by following the principles of traditional Chinese medicine where the patient’s complete picture of health is taken into account.

Acupuncture works at different levels to treat musculoskeletal injuries. It works on the whole body, as following an acupuncture treatment a variety of substances are released including endorphins, serotonin, and neuropeptides/neurotransmitters to aid pain relief and relaxation.

Acupuncture also has local effects. There is evidence that acupuncture can aid healing and resolution of injuries, including reducing pain, increasing local microcirculation and attracting white blood cells to the area, both of which speed the healing rate, and aid dispersal of swelling and bruising. Acupuncture releases chemicals which increase the healing rate of soft tissues, and speed nerve regeneration.

Acupuncture & Sport

There are 29 million sports injuries in Britain each year. One third of these injuries are serious enough to result in medical treatment or to affect normal day-to-day activities. The most common injuries are leg sprains or strains, and half of all tennis players develop tennis elbow.

Acupuncture is one treatment that is increasingly used by top sports players and athletes to treat musculoskeletal problems. It is used both on its own and in conjunction with other therapies such as physiotherapy and osteopathy. Professional sports teams are also now offering acupuncture to their players both to treat an injury and to keep them performing at their peak. Many high profile teams have dedicated acupuncturists on board, including the British Rugby team, many Premiership football teams and the British Olympic team.

There are physical and psychological barriers to peak performance. Musculo-skeletal pain or dysfunction can have an inhibiting effect on training and results. Acupuncture addresses these. It also encourages clear headedness through its relaxing effects on brain waves, and can alleviate anxiety contributing to a better mental state, allowing sports people to perform at their highest level. In 2000 German researchers found that acupuncture increased strength in the quadriceps by 10 per cent.

Recent Research

Several recent studies highlight the effectiveness of acupuncture on various conditions.

Shin splints

Athletes with shin splints were treated with either acupuncture alone, acupuncture and sports medicine or sports medicine. Those treated with either acupuncture or acupuncture in combination with sports medicine felt the greatest pain relief.

Tennis elbow

Sufferers treated with acupuncture had significant reductions in pain and improvements in arm function in comparison to those treated with sham acupuncture. In another study acupuncture was found to be significantly more effective in reducing pain than ultra sound in tennis elbow sufferers.


Acupuncture was found to combat the increased stress levels suffered by athletes following exercise. It was also found to reduce muscle tension and fatigue.

Neck pain

New research has found that office workers who suffer from chronic neck and shoulder pain felt the benefits for 3 years following a course of acupuncture treatment.

Norwegian researchers from the University of Oslo took a group of 24 women office workers who had suffered for several years with chronic neck and shoulder pain with related headaches. Half were treated with acupuncture and half became the control group, who received a sham acupuncture.

The 12 women who had acupuncture received it ten times in a three to four week period, and had fewer headaches and greatly reduced neck and shoulder pain. These improvements were still noticeable three years on.


Acupuncture – No Longer a Pain in the Neck

Acupuncture – No Longer a Pain in the Neck

A study by a team of researchers at the University of Southampton has revealed that Western style acupuncture can be effective in treating chronic neck pain. Moreover, its beneficial effects may be as much to do with the non-specific but powerful effects of the treatment process as the specific effect of the needles. The results of the study are set out in a paper that appears in the Annals of Internal Medicine on 21 December 2004.

A study by a team of researchers at the University of Southampton has revealed that Western style acupuncture can be effective in treating chronic neck pain. Moreover, its beneficial effects may be as much to do with the non-specific but powerful effects of the treatment process as the specific effect of the needles. The results of the study are set out in a paper that appears in the Annals of Internal Medicine on 21 December 2004.

Chronic neck pain presents a substantial problem and may be responsible for as many days’ absenteeism as low back pain. It is usually associated with unspecific degenerative changes such as osteoarthritis.

Acupuncture is the most frequently used complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) therapy for the treatment of osteoarthritis, with approximately one million people in the USA seeking CAM treatment each year. However, despite this huge increase in popularity and use, there has been little sound evidence to date that acupuncture helps patients with chronic neck pain.

Led by Dr Peter White and Dr George Lewith of the University’s Complementary Medicine Research Unit, this new study aimed to evaluate whether ‘Western style’ acupuncture is an effective treatment for chronic neck pain. ‘Western style’ acupuncture involves a conventional diagnosis followed by the use of an individualised acupuncture treatment using a combination of prescriptive points. In contrast, a traditional Chinese approach formulates an individualised diagnosis based on Chinese theories of meridians and energy.

A total of 124 patients with chronic neck pain aged between 18 and 80 years took part in the study. Patients received eight treatments over four weeks having been randomly assigned either acupuncture or mock stimulation to acupuncture points by the same therapist.

Patients were only allowed to use paracetamol for pain relief and were not allowed to undertake any other forms of treatment – even exercises or stretches – during the study or for two months afterwards. During the treatment all patients kept a diary to record pain and also completed questionnaires before, during and after their treatment to assess ease of movement and quality of life.

The results show acupuncture was effective at reducing neck pain and produced a statistically but not a clinically significant effect when compared to the mock treatment or placebo.

Over the 12 weeks of assessment, patients from both groups reported a similar and significant decrease in pain levels of over 60 per cent. The number of patients taking paracetamol also fell, as did the average number of tablets taken by patients. Interestingly, the study also showed that female patients tended to respond better than males and further research is required to establish whether there is a real difference in response in the sexes.

The results of the study cannot be generalised because only one therapist treated all the patients; more information would be gained by using several therapists. It is also impossible to identify whether treating patients with a traditional Chinese medicine-based approach might produce a different outcome so the research team cannot comment on the ‘best’ type of acupuncture.

Dr Lewith comments: ‘Our rigorous and methodologically sound study clearly shows that there was significant and long lasting improvement for both treatment groups. The implications for this are two-fold. First, acupuncture was clearly very effective at reducing pain, with patients experiencing large decreases over a prolonged period which would recommend its clinical use. Second, our study also implies that most of the improvement gained from acupuncture was not due to the needling process itself but due predominantly to the non-specific yet powerful effects which are probably part of the treatment process.’

Acupuncture Gains Respect

Acupuncture Gains Respect

Source: LA Times/ Archives

For researchers, the question is not only whether the ancient technique works, but also how.

The ancient Chinese technique of sticking needles into the skin to relieve pain, nausea and many other ills can indeed make people feel better – more mellow and more energized.

Many researchers used to think this lovely state was mostly due to the placebo effect. But a growing body of evidence – brain scans, ultrasound and other techniques – shows that acupuncture triggers direct, measurable effects on the body, including perhaps, activation of precisely the regions of the brain that would be predicted by ancient Chinese theory.

“The quality and amount of research being conducted now on acupuncture is improving greatly,” said Peter Wayne, director of research at the New England School of Acupuncture. The school has received $3.2 million in federal grants to study acupuncture on women undergoing chemotherapy for ovarian cancer, on teenagers with endometriosis, and on the accuracy of acupuncturists in diagnosing disease.

At UC Irvine, researchers have shown that when a needle is placed in a point on the side of the foot that Chinese theorists associate with vision, sure enough, the visual cortex in the brain “lights up” on fMRI, or functional magnetic resonance imaging scans, though the cause and effect are not totally clear.

Neuroscientist Seung-Schik Yoo at Brigham and Women’s Hospital has shown that when a needle is placed in a point called pericardium 6 on the wrist, known in Chinese medicine as a sensitive point for nausea, the part of the brain that controls the vestibular system (which affects balance and nausea) lights up on scans.

Acupuncture has been used so far by 8.2 million Americans, according to the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine, a government agency. Some insurers now pay for acupuncture, which is considered extremely safe.

More than 40 clinical trials have shown that acupuncture reduces nausea following chemotherapy or surgery, said Ted Kaptchuk, an assistant professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School who is also a doctor of Chinese medicine.

In one of the best studies, Dr. Tong J. Gan, director of clinical research in anesthesiology at Duke University Medical Center, showed last year that acupuncture on the wrist point was “as good as giving ondansetron,” an anti-nausea drug, for postoperative nausea and vomiting.

And a recent randomized, controlled study of 570 people with osteoarthritis of the knee showed that real acupuncture, as opposed to a fake form used as a control, reduced pain and increased function by about 30%.

“This is roughly the same effect size” as with ibuprofen-type drugs, said Dr. Brian Berman, the study leader and director of the Center for Integrative Medicine at the University of Maryland School of Medicine. At the moment, Berman recommends that patients use acupuncture with, not instead of, pain medications, though it may help reduce the amount of medication needed.

Perhaps the most intriguing scientific question is not whether acupuncture works, but how. In acupuncture theory, there are 360 major points in the skin that lie along the 12 major channels, or meridians, in the body, through which the qi flows. (Pronounced “chee,” qi is the Chinese term for vital energy.)

In Western terms, the acupuncture points correspond to areas of decreased electrical resistance on the skin. Since the 1970s, Western researchers have known that one of the ways acupuncture works is by releasing endorphins, the body’s natural painkillers.

In a series of classic experiments, researchers hooked together the circulatory systems of two animals, but performed acupuncture on only one. Both animals showed evidence of less pain.

Acupuncture seems to calm precisely the part of the brain that controls the emotional response to pain, said Dr. Kathleen K. S. Hui, a neuroscientist at the Martinos Center for Biomedical Imaging at Massachusetts General Hospital, which has a federal grant to study acupuncture’s effects on the brain. Her brain scan studies show decreased activation in deeper brain structures in the limbic system, which governs emotions and other physiological functions.

Researchers have also shown that acupuncture boosts levels of serotonin, which is often deficient in people with depression, and lowers levels of norepinephrine and dopamine, which are often elevated in sufferers of stress and pain.

Precisely how signals travel from acupuncture points to the brain is still a matter of some debate. Most researchers, Hui among them, believe that electrical signals travel along nerve tracts that branch off from the brain stem to the limbic system. Others, like Dr. Helene Langevin, a neurologist at the University of Vermont College of Medicine, thinks signals may also pass along the 12 major acupuncture meridians that run through the body.

For years, Western scientists doubted the existence of these meridians. But in a series of studies using ultrasound, Langevin has found evidence that the meridians lie along the sheets of connective tissue that surround organs. By analyzing meridians in the arm of a cadaver, Langevin said she discovered “that 80% of the acupuncture points coincided to where the major connective tissue plane was. We also did a statistical analysis – this was not due to chance.”

The bottom line? At long last, Western scientists are beginning to show, by their own standards, just what Chinese acupuncturists have been saying for millenniums: That the effects of acupuncture are real. And that, at least for certain problems and to some degree, acupuncture can help relieve pain and suffering.