Acupuncture can heal musculoskeletal ailments
In my last column I had written about the benefits of acupuncture and acupressure on the body. One of the body systems that benefit a lot from acupuncture is the musculoskeletal system. Our musculoskeletal system includes bones, cartilage, tendons and connective tissues. Our skeleton provides a framework for our muscles and other soft tissues. Together they support our body’s weight, maintain our posture and help us to move and do all our physical activities. Musculoskeletal disorders and the related pain are major cause of disability and suffering in all age groups, especially amongst seniors.
The common conditions that affect the muscles, ligaments, tendons and bones are osteoporosis, osteoarthritis, neck pain, lower back pain, herniated discs or slip disc, adhesive capsulitis or frozen shoulder, ankylosing spondylitis, fibromyalgia, rheumatoid arthritis, gouty arthritis and such others.
Acupuncture treatment for musculoskeletal issues is based on the theory that illness results from imbalances in energy flow, or qi, and fine needles are inserted at specific points on the body to correct these imbalances and restore harmony. This treatment addresses both the physiological and psychological aspects.
Acupuncture can provide excellent results as a viable alternative to drugs and surgery. It works very well for acute or chronic pain in the muscles, ligaments, tendons and joints. Patients who have experienced trauma and pain from a major accident respond very well to this treatment. Those who have acute pain get relief from the pain immediately but patients with chronic conditions generally require an extended treatment to experience a significant improvement in their symptoms.
Acupuncture points stimulate the central nervous system, which, in turn, releases chemicals to the muscles, spinal cord and brain. These biochemical changes stimulate the body’s natural healing abilities and promote physical well-being. It also has the effect of constricting or dilating the blood vessels, hence controlling the blood supply as per the needs of the treatment. In response to the point stimulation the body releases vasodilators (blood vessel dilators) such as histamine which helps in reducing pain, decreasing oedema (water retention), improving mobility and addressing chronic complaints even for accidental injuries.
Osteoporosis is a chronic metabolic disease characterised by bones having mass loss, microstructural damage, becoming brittle, with declining strength and tendency to be fracture prone. It can affect anyone at any age, especially post-menopausal women because of decline in ovarian function and decreased oestrogen levels and in elderly men due to rapid ageing of the body. Low back pain or systemic bone pain, deformation of spinal column and bone fractures are the common complaints of an osteoporosis patient.
Osteoporosis is primarily attributed to deficiencies in the kidneys, since the kidneys are related to bone marrow production, which explains the important relationship between the kidneys and the bones, in acupuncture science.
Deficiencies in the spleen and stomach also play a role in the pathology of this disease since they are responsible for ensuring an adequate supply of qi energy and blood which is necessary to nourish the bones.
The clinical treatment of acupuncture for this disease is mainly to improve the qi of kidney meridian which has a direct effect on bones. The treatment can improve the hormone level which plays the role of an antioxidant, adjusts the hormonal imbalance, increases the formation of osteoblasts which helps increase bone density, prevents the occurrence of fractures, reduces pain and thus improves the quality of life.
OA is the most common form of arthritis and the most common reason for hip and knee replacements. It involves cartilage degeneration and proliferation. OA of the knee is a major cause of disability among adults, which leads to difficulty in climbing stairs, walking and other daily activities which could also affect the mental well-being of a person.
Acupuncture treatment triggers impulses to the spinal cord, which then activates the spinal cord, midbrain and pituitary to release neurochemicals like endorphins, which helps in relieving pain. It suppresses the body’s inflammatory response due to its anti-inflammatory effect by minimising the production of cortisol and, thus, improves blood flow and relaxes muscle tone.
The treatment process helps in stimulating endorphins and oxytocin, which helps in stress relief and by stimulating melatonin it induces good sleep. This also improves the sense of well-being from the release of serotonin.
RA is a chronic inflammatory disorder in which the body’s immune system attacks its own tissue including joints and in severe cases it attacks internal organs.
Acupuncture helps in reducing the pain, joint stiffness and in improving the physical functioning by regulating the level of interleukins and certain cell signaling proteins collectively called cytokines that are involved in the inflammatory response and become elevated in autoimmune conditions like rheumatoid arthritis.
Regular sessions of the treatment helps in decreasing the biological markers of rheumatoid arthritis like RA factor, ESR and CRP, resulting in long-term benefits.
SPINAL CORD INJURY
SCI is one of the most common causes of death and life-changing disability and serious complications in patients. Acupuncture has been widely used to help the recovery of motor and sensory function after SCI. It not only results in functional improvement but also aids neural restoration. It effectively manages a range of post-SCI complications, including motor and sensory dysfunction, pain, neurogenic bowel and bladder, pressure ulcers, spasticity and osteoporosis. It also takes care of anxiety, depression and insomnia, which are fairly common complications amongst individuals with SCI.
Electro acupuncture is where small electrical current is passed through the needles; this can help excite neurons located below the point of injury to improve one’s functional outcome. Spinal cord injuries can severely impact the motor function, which may lead to paralysis but can be prevented by the process of stimulating repair with acupuncture. Electro acupuncture generates sensory impulses in the deep tissues, activating neurons at the level of spinal cord resulting in muscle contraction.
Other related ailments like neurogenic bladder with symptoms like urinary incontinence and urine retention can be reversed, by affecting the synthesis and release of neurotransmitters which regulate the physiological function of the bladder and thus the treatment has a therapeutic role for SCI patients.
A herniated disc, often referred to as a “slipped disc” or a “bulging disc” or a “prolapsed disc”, is a condition which creates pressure on the nerves and muscles of the spine, which then creates inflammation and swelling in a localised area of the spine and can cause severe pain in the neck, lower back pain, sciatica pain and tingling that radiates down the leg.
Acupuncture is very effective for the treatment of intervertebral disc herniations. It triggers the release of endorphins into the blood stream, which are our body’s natural pain relievers.
Similarly, the gate control theory also plays a role in acupuncture’s effectiveness at reducing pain. This theory asserts that pain signals travel slowly from the point of injury to the spinal cord and into the brain because the nerves can only handle a limited number of signals at a given point of time.
The treatment helps generate faster signals to crowd out the slow-moving signals, thus blocking out the pain. It not only relieves the symptoms of a slipped disc but also speeds up the healing process. The treatment process for herniated disc will often focus on strengthening the qi and blood flow to the kidneys.
Also known as heel spur, this is a calcium deposit on the heel bone. According to acupuncture, heel spur occurs due to qi and blood stagnation in the kidney, gall bladder and stomach channels, which controls the pain of the feet. Acupuncture can help to relax the muscles and connective tissue of the foot and decrease inflammation.
Frozen shoulder, also termed as adhesive capsulitis, causes severe stiffness, muscle aches and limited movement of the shoulder, which can even result into no movement at all. The treatment stimulates nerves in the muscles and tissues surrounding the shoulder, which helps in reducing shoulder inflammation, which directly reduces the symptoms and provides both immediate relief whilst maximising mobility of the shoulder.
Fibromyalgia is a condition which affects bones and muscles and the symptoms are muscle pain, burning , twitching or tightness, fatigue, insomnia, bloating, headache, sensitivity to cold, heat, light, numbness or tingling in the hands, legs or feet.
The treatment stimulates several mechanisms in the body like the peripheral and central nervous system, the inflammatory response of the immune system and the natural pain-relieving mechanism in the nervous system.
Other ailments which are often treated successfully are gout, tennis elbow, carpal tunnel syndrome, locked finger, planter fascitis, ankylosing and other forms of spondylitis as well as sports-related ailments.
Pritee Ganatra is a certified medical practitioner specialising in alternative medicine. She is the founder and principal practitioner, Sarojini Sujok Clinic. Email: email@example.com, Instagram: @priteeganatra, Facebook: Pritee Ganatra