4 reasons to include medical acupuncture in your arsenal
Thursday, September 07, 2017
Medical acupuncture, aka dry needling, is a rapidly growing field. While acupuncture in its traditional form has been around for thousands of years, medical (Western) acupuncture is a much newer field, although still dates back to the 1800s. However, it's only been in the last 30 years that it has gained acceptance as a legitimate treatment method for myofascial pain.
More and more physical therapists are training in medical acupuncture, either by way of continued professional development with post-graduate courses or through their undergraduate program, with more schools offering acupuncture to entry-level students.
Having recently completed my own acupuncture training, I would highly recommend it, and here's why:
1. Save yourself
Physical therapy is an extremely intense, physical job. You don't need me to tell you that.
All the manual therapies we use, plus the passive assessments, exercise demos, adjustments and support during these exercises can take their toll. This is only getting worse as people get bigger — more effort is required to reach deep tissues, lift heavy limbs and apply the necessary forces for manipulations.
In fact, the acupuncture course I attended consisted of 20 physical therapists, and at least 75 percent were suffering with a work-related pain or injury. Not only can this stop you working in the short term, but it could even cause you to have to retire early or change profession. Work-related pain such as back and shoulder pain or OA in the hands may even impact on your quality of life outside of work.
Acupuncture is a great treatment for your clients that doesn't place any undue stress on your own body. It can be used on any size and shape of client with the same effect. Why spend 10 minutes manually treating someone when you can insert the needles and let them to do work?
2. Evidence-backed treatment
The research backing up acupuncture (dry needling) as a treatment method for musculoskeletal conditions is varied. Some RCTs demonstrate its efficacy, while others do not.
The most likely reason for conflicting results is the methodology used. Some use a "sham acupuncture" placebo for the control group; others compare its effects to other forms of needle therapy — lidocaine injections, for example; while others test against alternative treatments, which are wide-ranging.
On top of this, the protocol in terms of needle placement and numbers is variable, and in many cases not described fully in the methodology. All of this contributes to a range of results with difficulty in pin-pointing why.
One review that recommends dry needling treatment was published in 2013 by Kietrys et al. They looked at the effect of dry needling on upper quadrant myofascial pain in 12 RCTs. You can read the abstract here.
In 2015, another published review considered the use of dry needling for myofascial trigger points associated with neck and shoulder pain. The review included 20 RCTs that demonstrated improvements in short and medium-term outcomes, although questioned its use in the long term. The review can be read here.
Finally and most recently, a further review published this year found that dry needling is effective in the short term for pain relief, increasing range of motion and improving quality of life when compared to no intervention/sham/placebo. The authors summarized that further high-quality research with standardized procedures are required. The abstract can be found here.
3. Widen your market
Acupuncture is another great tool you can have in your bag for treating clients. Many clients have had it before and may even only seek out a therapist who can do acupuncture for them. Don't miss out on those clients by not offering it as a treatment.
Even those who haven't had acupuncture before will be more likely to make an appointment to see you if you have a wide range of skills listed under your name. It gives the impression of a well-educated and well-rounded professional who can select and administer the most appropriate treatment for their condition, rather than a one-trick pony who can only utilize one form of therapy.
In addition, with medical acupuncture being taught in more undergraduate programs, training now is wise to avoid being left behind as the only therapist in your area you doesn't offer acupuncture.
4. Client satisfaction
This is, of course, the most important factor in a successful physical therapy business.
If your clients are happy, they tell their friends and family. When they then have an injury, they'll come to see you because so and so said you "cured" their problem. People don't like to pick a name at random in the hope they can help. They like reviews and recommendations.
From time to time we all get one of those tricky clients where nothing seems to work. In many cases, these clients will have seen one or more other therapists before coming to you, who also struggled to clear their symptoms.
Adding another string to your bow with acupuncture may be the key to getting those tricky cases back to full health. It's certainly helped push a few of my clients' "stubborn" injuries in the right direction. If you can do that with these more challenging cases, then you'll have a walking, talking advertisement for life.
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