We often seek out therapies like acupuncture once we are experiencing an injury or pain, but many don’t realize that it can be an extremely useful tool to help maintain muscle balance and posture throughout the body. Both acupuncture and body work do an amazing job of addressing minor imbalances before they erupt into a more serious problem. This can include things like muscle tension throughout the neck and shoulders, limited range of motion through the hips, strength discrepancies side to side, and gait (walking) abnormalities.
What if you don’t correct imbalances?
Any one of the issues listed above may not feel like a big problem at the moment, but when we hold these imbalances for weeks, months, or even years it gives opportunity for more bothersome injuries to arise. Using gait (walking) as an example, If someone’s foot arch collapses every time they step, the knee will begin to follow suit. This puts unwanted stress on the cartilage and other structures of the knee and if allowed to continue over years, can lead to degenerative issues such as osteoarthritis. This same example can cause issues even farther up the chain, past the knee and into the hip and low back. For this example, Using a therapy like acupuncture in addition to corrective exercise can stimulate the muscles that support the arch, improve walking mechanics, and take unwanted stress off of all the joints upstream from the foot.
When it comes to muscle imbalance and poor posture there is often a self perpetuating phenomenon known as reciprocal inhibition. This is a fancy term that essentially means one muscle is so overactive that its opposing/balancing muscle is not able to produce contractions as effectively. Like in the name, the reciprocal muscle pair is inhibited. This situation can make it much more challenging for the patient to benefit from postural exercises because the nervous system is not properly engaging the muscles they are trying to strengthen. Acupuncture is an amazing tool in these instances as it can both release the shortened/tight muscle, as well as stimulate the underactive muscle. When this negative feedback loop is corrected, it allows the patient to get much more out of their postural exercises, and movement in general.
Trigger points are another pesky musculoskeletal issue that can easily be resolved with acupuncture. The trigger points begin to form in muscles when they are being overused or misused for an extended period of time. While they are not extremely painful on their own, they can progress and begin to limit mobility. These trigger points are tender to the touch and give the entire muscle a greater sense of tension. Using acupuncture, we are able to release these trigger points, which can improve both strength and mobility of the given muscle.
One more notable area that acupuncture can help maintain or improve is proprioception. Proprioception is our bodies ability to know where it is in space. This is hugely important for activities of daily living as well as activities in the gym. When we stimulate joint spaces rich in proprioceptive neurons with an acupuncture needle, it helps to modulate the function of the nerves and allows them to more accurately give your brain feedback on the position of your body.
These are just a handful of the maintenance benefits acupuncture can offer. Reach out today if you have any questions!
Author Adam Gawlak is a Licensed Acupuncturist (LAc) and Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS). His specialities include sports medicine acupuncture, motor point acupuncture, trigger point needling and traditional Chinese medicine, along with strength training, athletic performance, and corrective exercise.