This is by far the most common question I get. Unfortunately, acupuncture often gets misunderstood as an ‘energy medicine’ that works on moving mystical energy through unseen meridians in the body. I do not perpetuate this model of acupuncture, nor do I feel that it is accurate.
The lens with which I view and use acupuncture is firmly rooted in anatomy and physiology and how the human body responds to inputs via the nervous system.
The most common input I utilize to treat pain and joint disfunction is the use of motor points.
A Motor Point is located within the central belly of a muscle, it is were the motor nerve enters the muscle. Motor nerves allow the brain to communicate with the muscle and for the muscle to send information back to the brain. They activate the part of the nervous system that governs the muscles strength and tension. This juncture, where motor nerve enters the muscle, is characterized by being the most electrically excitable area with the highest concentration of nerve endings.
This is important for treatment because this area that has the greatest electrical and nerve activity, has the greatest impact on pain. When we have pain or joint dysfunction, it is at this motor point where the brain is communicating to the muscle commands like: increase or decrease tone, spasm, or weaken and/or turn off the muscle reflex altogether. These signals can still be present even after the injury has healed and it requires a new input to reset the system.
Let me give you an example to illustrate how pain can create a new pattern in the body. If I were to put a rock in your shoe and make sure you kept that shoe on for an extended period of time (ie. as long as you’ve had your injury), the brain is going create pain as a message that something is wrong. Upon feeling the pain, your foot is going to twist itself to avoid the rock (compensation). If, after a short time, we take the rock out of your shoe, your body would need a small amount of time to heal and return to normal. If the rock was in there long enough, your brain has more time, and therefore can get better at rewiring your movement pattern to protect your foot. So after removing the rock (injury heals), if corrective measures are not taken, your foot could stay in that compensatory pattern making it difficult to move efficiently.
Over time, this curled up foot, can start to affect the other joints such as your knee, hip and/or low back. This model is a representation of how acute pain can lead to chronic pain if left untreated. It can also show how chronic pain can slowly develop without an initial injury. Instead of the rock, lets say your desk, your car, or your phone use for hours on end leads your body to adapt to those positions. That adaptation leads to your tissues becoming congested and restrictive which can develop into chronic pain.
One of the quickest and most effective ways to change this pattern is through treating the motor points of the muscles involved in-order to send new input to the brain to change the tension and length in the muscles and connective tissue involved. Because an acupuncture needle is remarkably thin and made from electrically conductive metal, it can be placed in a precise location and excite the receptors in the muscle, creating a reseting effect. This is why needling the motor points has a great advantage over just a hands on approach.
With this treatment we are balancing the opposing muscle groups that are acting on the joint allowing it to return to its neutral positioning. This will signal back to the brain that it is safe to turn off the pain response now that the joint is moving correctly being properly stabilized.
The identification and utilization of motor points provides a Sports Medicine Acupuncturist with a system of acupuncture that is scientifically verifiable and that can provide instant feedback that we have created a change in the body. This can be tested with manual muscle tests and joint ranges of motion before and after treatment.
Motor point treatments used in conjunction with manual therapy and corrective exercise allow a Sports Medicine Acupuncturist to set themselves apart from other health care providers.