Needling Toward Recovery: My Experience with Acupuncture

As I mentioned in my last article, I developed significant achilles tendonitis around the time of my marathon.  My running coach suggested I try acupuncture.

Now, I’m a Western physician.  I have very little experience with acupuncture, but I’ve ready about its use in the treatment of chronic headaches and chronic pain and as a adjunctive therapy in injured athletes. I figured I’d give it a stab.

I headed over to visit with Scot Taylor, over at Balance Acupuncture and Natural Medicine for my first treatment a few days before the big run.  As we got started, he explained that in many states, including Texas, Acupuncturists are licensed and regulated healthcare professionals.  The training acupuncturists undergo is quite extensive and is rooted in traditional Chinese medicine.  The Chinese have been practicing acupressure and acupuncture for centuries. His degree was a Bachelor’s of Traditional Chinese Medicine.  As we got started and he applied an antiseptic to my legs, he explained that the needles he used were single use and were actually quite small. They are 32 gauge (roughly the thickness of coarse hair), stainless steel, solid needles and are about two inches long.  He places the needles in accordance with Chinese methods and his assessment of the patient’s condition.  The traditional theory behind acupuncture is that the needles affect the flow of your body’s energy, reestablishing balance. Many Western practitioners feel that the needles have effect on blood flow, neuroendocrine system or other factors that influence pain and healing.

As we got started, Scot inserted several needles into various points on my legs.  The insertion was nearly painless — there was a barely perceptible pinch.  However, other, pleasant effects set in.  My legs stared to feel warm and heavy.  At one point, he inserted a needle a few inches below my knee, into my calf, and I felt a slight tingle with warmth in my foot.  Now, I know that he had affected my sural nerve, but it felt good!  After he set all the needles, he applied a electrical generator to some of the needles and applied micro current (microampres) to the needles.  This would help relax the muscles and increase blood flow, Scot explained.

Scot then left me in the room (with a call bell, if I needed help) to relax and give the needles a chance to do their thing. Afterwards, the needles came out and off I went.  My legs felt quite a bit better after my treatment.  They were more relaxed and the pull of my injured achilles was less pronounced immediately following the treatment.  My pain was significantly bette the next day as well. 

A quick scientific literature review surrounding acupuncture shows there is no consensus in the scientific literature that acupuncture is equivalent or superior to more typical, Western methods.  However, many articles state that it may be a useful adjunct in some patients.  There is probably a significant placebo effect, but some folks swear by it.  My own experience was such that after my marathon, I returned to Scot for another treatment.  This time, my tendonitis seemed to fade much more quickly than it had before. 

My experiences were sufficiently positive that I will return to Scot in the future.  While I do not think that it replaces more mainstream treatments such as medications or physical therapy, I think that it may be a useful adjunct to those methods. As an added benefit, some insurance companies cover acupuncture treatment.  If you’re looking for a non-traditional, medication-free addition to your recovery plan, consider acupuncture.