Though the source of pain can sometimes be obvious, it is often due to more subtle dysfunctions in the nervous system resulting in neuropathic pain which cannot be seen on x-rays or ultrasound scans. Oftentimes this neuropathic pain involves the nerve to muscle connection where affected muscles that have become shortened/ tightened or overstretched/ loosened, physically compounding pain due to reduced blood flow. A classic example is someone who suffers back pain after long periods of sitting: though their back muscles may of course be affected, often the muscles in their buttocks become overstretched and the muscles at the top of their thigh become overly tight (simply due to the body position while seated), and the muscles become inhibited or “switch off”, referring pain to the back. If these muscles aren’t addressed, the back pain may not resolve completely or may become recurring.
When muscles are inhibited in this way, matters can become more complicated as we often compensate by altering our posture, creating more dysfunction in other areas of the body, resulting in a domino effect. We likely all know someone who has injured their knee, then started walking with a tilted posture, and wound up also having back pain! Or more subtly, a weightlifter who is unaware that their glute muscles aren’t firing efficiently due to muscle inhibition or reduced blood flow, and inadvertently strains their hamstrings while performing squats.
Sports acupuncture was developed with the understanding of neurology and the functions of muscles. The first step to treatment with acupuncture is an assessment of which muscles may be contributing to the condition. Once this is defined, we are able to find the points in which nerves meet those muscles, known as motor points. When an acupuncture needle is used on a motor point with an electric impulse, it creates a contraction and relaxation phase releasing tight contracted bands of muscle or tightens overstretched bands of muscle. This is like hitting a reset button. The results are immediate pain relief and improved muscle contractibility and mobility.