A lot of people ask us about acupuncture. Not only the obvious things like: Does it hurt? How big are the needles? But also, How does it work? And, Will it help my sciatica/mood/tight muscles?
Sensible questions all round! Here, we try to provide some (mostly sensible) answers. Watch out for the science (anyone else remember Jennifer Aniston in the L’Oreal advert?) Let’s start at the beginning.
What is Acupuncture?
It’s the insertion of very thin needles into specific points on the skin. Part of Chinese medicine that’s been around for over 2000 years, it has been used commonly in Western societies since the 1970s. Physiotherapists use acupuncture for many different purposes, but the main ones are: to relieve pain, to reduce muscle tension, and to promote the body’s own healing processes as an accompaniment to other treatments such as manual therapy and relaxation teachniques.
*Science bit* By creating a very small and controlled amount of “sterile trauma” with the needle, acupuncture stimulates the body to produce endorphins (happy/pain-relieving hormones) and their receptors (which means not only do you have more hormone to create an effect, you also have a greater catchment area to “feel” that effect), as well as serotonin (stress-busters). The needle also stimulates A? nerve fibres. This produces another chemical which blocks the C fibres – the nerve endings for PAIN – from accepting input. Long story short: you swap the pain sensation for something more like a tingling or a heaviness, or a nice relaxed feeling instead.
Does it Hurt?
Well, not any more than you might expect from a very small needle (each one is about the width of a human hair). And quite often, a whole lot less than you’d expect. It depends what area we’re working on. Some parts of the body have more concentrated nerve endings per unit area, and these will natually be more sensitive (your hands and feet, for example). Some have fewer nerve endings (thighs, back etc). If there is a lot of muscle tension in the area, you can get a very strong sensation but conversely, you may not feel the needle at all.
So What Will I Feel?
Alongside the tingling or warm, heavy feeling, you may feel a little sleepy or even giggly (this one more common in men in my experience). Some people feel a little light-headed, and there can be side-effects that aren’t as much fun, like nausea or fainting. Usually the treatment won’t feel unpleasant at all, but if you don’t wish to proceed at any time, we’ll take the needles out immediately.
Where Will the Needles Be Put?
This will depend on what your symptoms are and where you feel them. Because of the way the channels are lined up in your body and along your limbs (think of them kind of like a long train track with lots of stations along it), you wouldn’t necessarily have to have the needles exactly where your pain is to still get a good effect. There are some points that are usually used in conjunction with others (called “formula” points), for instance the “4 gates”, which are points in both hands and both feet and help relieve pain. And there are points away from the spine, as well as closer to the spine on those “tracks” or Meridians, which will help send those messages along the appropriate nerve fibres to give you relief where you need it.
Are the Needles Sterile?
Yes, every one is individually packed and disposed of in our sharps boxes after a single use. Each needle also comes in its own plastic guide tube so your physiotherapist will not touch the part inserted into your skin.
How Many Sessions Will I Need?
Most conditions are treated with good effect in fewer than 6 appointments, but you might feel better after only one or 2 sessions. It will generally be clear after 2-3 sessions if the acupuncture is of benefit.
I Have (select an option) Epilepsy/a Pacemaker/Man-Flu, Can I Still Have Acupuncture?
Well, unfortunately no is the answer for some conditions like unstable heart conditions or over infected or broken skin, or for women in their first trimester of pregnancy. For people with diabetes, hepatitis, high/low blood pressure or a history of metal allergies, blood disorders or cancer, we’ll help you decide with more in-depth questions whether it’s best to proceed with acupuncture or not. We’ll also work with you to make sure that any treatments given are the current best practice for your specific condition, and in many cases, this doesn’t include acupuncture (man-flu included.)
Any time by sending us an email (firstname.lastname@example.org), giving us a phone (0141 2372 721) or popping in to see us. We offer a free 15 minute consultation, where you can tell us what ails you and we’ll let you know if physiotherapy would be advised (and if acupuncture is an option, how we suggest proceeding.)
We’ve all had them. Whether it’s a calf in the second half of a football match, your fingers after writing or typing all day or toes in the middle of the night (just me?), cramp is something we’ve all experienced. But what causes it? What’s the best way to get rid of it, and how can you avoid it?
What IS cramp?
When we talk about cramp, we are generally referring to the sensation of our muscles tightening up involuntarily, leaving us temporarily paralysed and usually in a lot of pain. Cramp can come on for several reasons and is usually harmless (apart from the excruciating pain, obviously), but it can indicate underlying pathology.
One of the most common areas to cramp is the calf muscle, and 75% of these cramps occur at night time. Many people suffer from this for no apparent reason (this is known as an idiopathic condition), but some people have cramps as a result of a pre-existing condition such as pregnancy, diabetes or liver disease. You might cramp more often if you’ve been exercising excessively during the day, or if you are on certain medications e.g. for high cholesterol or high blood pressure (statins or diuretics).
Some cramps last only a few seconds and happen occasionally, but they can last up to 10 minutes and occur more frequently. If the latter is the case with you, or you are experiencing swelling or numbness along with the cramps, it’s worth visiting your GP.
What causes cramps?
Dehydration is thought to be one of the most common causes, and although we may think we are drinking enough in a day, we could always take on board that extra glass or two.
A deficiency in salt is also a popular theory for cramping, however this doesn’t necessarily mean you should laden up your chips tonight just in case! Potassium (a mineral which can be found in bananas, spinach, mushrooms, raisins and oranges amongst other foods) is an important missing factor in many people’s diets, and eating a little more each day can reduce cramping.
Fatigue is another common reason for cramp. If you have been doing more exercise than usual during the day, or if the weather has been particularly warm (as it was this lovely summer), it’s natural that your body will sweat more and therefore be losing more water and salts than usual.
As we age, our tendons (attaching muscles to bones) naturally shorten, pulling more on the muscles causing them to tighten, which may be one reason people over 60 experience cramp more often.
To prevent cramps…
There is no guaranteed way of preventing cramps (unless you listen to my Granny, whose cure involving nettle leaves and tuna fish is a sure-fire winner…) but there are ways of reducing the severity and frequency. Try to include some moderate exercise into every day, especially targetted stretching of the affected muscles (i.e. a few calf stretches before bedtime). Walking, taking a flight of stairs here and there, even a few extra stretches when on a break from your desk – but do remember that unusually heavy exercise (relatively) may increase the occurrence.
To combat the dehydration issue, spread your fluid intake throughout the day – having a bottle of water at your desk to sip is a good tip, as is having a glass of water after every time you visit the toilet (not from the toilet I hasten to add). Lots of people don’t like to drink too much before bedtime, so the best advice is to drink as much water as possible throughout the day before dinnertime.
If your cramps are worse at night, make sure your ankles are relaxed when you sleep (in other words, don’t sleep with your toes pointed). Your sheets should also be kept quite loose, to allow your muscles to move.
For those with persistent cramping, your GP might prescribe you medication, but the main methods of preventing cramps (as above) should be exhausted first. If your leg cramps occur during pregnancy, especially in the last trimester, you should find these ease once you’ve had your baby.
What should I do when I get cramp?
Ah, the all important part. With any luck, you’re probably already doing some of the right things to help ease cramp when it does occur, but here is a quick rundown of how to help.
First and foremost, try to get the cramping muscles into a stretch (see the picture opposite for a calf stretch). Some people find a standing stretch easier, others ask for help and have someone else flex their ankles for them while they lie on their backs. Having someone assist you is often easier for hamstring (back of the thigh) cramps.
Massage the tight muscles gently to try to release the cramp. Once the cramp has shifted, you might be left with a fatigued and sore muscle which can be massaged properly to help return normal sensation and function.
Use warm water to try to ease the pain and tightness if you can.
If you are concerned about the cramps you’re having, it is worthwhile making an appointment to see your GP. If you’d like to book a physiotherapy appointment, or even book a massage, please get in touch by calling us on 0141 2372 721, or emailing email@example.com.