Is Acupuncture Good for Ligament Damage?

Breeze Academy April 3, 2022
Doctor Putting a Wrist Brace on Patient

Acupuncture is reported to be a great alternative treatment for a number of musculoskeletal conditions, such as soft-tissue damage. But, is acupuncture good for ligament damage? In this article, we look into the effects of acupuncture on ligament damage, and how it compares to common Western treatments. 

So, is acupuncture good for ligament damage? Acupuncture shows promising evidence for managing the symptoms of ligament damage, such as pain relief and inflammation, but expert opinion differs on its ability to actually heal the injury. However, there are studies that show that acupuncture improves circulation, which may contribute to faster healing.

Read on to learn more about how acupuncture may benefit ligament damage.

Can Acupuncture Heal Damaged Ligaments?

A study into acupuncture for sports injuries suggests that acupuncture may offer either long-term improvements to symptoms of soft-tissue damage or a complete resolution. Damaged ligaments would typically be classed as soft-tissue damage, therefore acupuncture may be able to help heal or manage the condition. 

The study on the use of acupuncture on soft tissue disorders reported that

out of 201 patients, 6% saw minimal improvement, 33% saw remarkable improvement, and 59% saw clinical resolution.

There have also been positive lab trials on the use of warming acupuncture for ligament damage, concluding that warming acupuncture may facilitate the healing process via increasing cellular activity. A second study in a similar field reported that warming acupuncture may offer pain relief benefits for damaged ligaments. A further study reported an 85% effectiveness of acupuncture when measured against pain threshold and electromyography.

However, most studies into acupuncture for ligament damage conclude that findings are inconsistent or inconclusive. But, from a western perspective, acupuncture may help to heal or manage damaged ligaments by reducing pain, improving circulation, and reducing the risk of repeat injury (1, 2). 

What is a Torn Ligament?

A torn ligament occurs when joints are stressed beyond their normal range of motion, e.g. sprains and strains. Ligament damage can range in severity from mild damage that will heal quickly with minimal intervention, to severe damage that may require surgery. 

  • Grade 1 - Mild tear or sprain. Grade 1 damage will usually heal within a few weeks, but it is important to rest and avoid reinjury. The RICE method generally works well here. 
  • Grade 2 - Grade 2 damage is more severe and may present with swelling and/or bruising. Recovery can take between 6-12 weeks and significant rest is required, as well stabliisation of the joint. Return to activity should be monitored, and physiotherapy may be advised in some cases. 
  • Grade 3 - Complete ligament tear. This is a severe injury and will often require surgical intervention for a complete recovery. 

How Does Acupuncture Heal Injuries?

As previously mentioned, studies disagree on the effectiveness of acupuncture for ligament damage, but from a western perspective, acupuncture has been shown to offer positive benefits for ligament damage, including pain relief, improved circulation (1, 2), reduced inflammation, and improved range of motion. Whilst none of these effects  necessarily heal the problem,  they do offer positive benefits which may help speed up recovery time, or make recovery more comfortable.

Is Acupuncture Good for Other Soft Tissue Injuries?

A number of studies show promise for the positive effects of acupuncture on soft-tissue injuries (1, 2). However, many do conclude that further research is needed to fully understand the effects of acupuncture on soft tissue such as ligaments.

That said, there are a couple of other soft-tissue injuries that acupuncture is said to be able to help:

  • Sprains and strains - acupuncture is reported to offer pain relief, and may help to restore range of motion in cases of sprains and strains (1, 2).
  • Tendonitis - studies show that acupuncture may offer pain relief, reduced inflammation, and improved range of motion in tendonitis conditions(1, 2).

How Acupuncture Compares to Western Medicine for Ligament Damage

It is not thought that acupuncture offers superior treatment to Western medicine for ligament damage, but that it offers an alternative approach. In fact, the NHS considers acupuncture to be CAM therapy - complementary and alternative medicine. 

Western medicine largely focuses on the RICE method for mild to moderate soft-tissue damage, but this is more geared towards reducing inflammation and pain, allowing patients to return to normal activity faster. However, it doesn’t help to heal the problem and the injury may reoccur.

Acupuncture, however, stimulates the body’s natural responses to injury to help promote healing. For example, stimulating circulation helps to deliver essential nutrients and oxygen to the injured area, encouraging a quicker recovery time. What’s more, acupuncture is thought to reduce the risk of the injury recurring. 

Final Thoughts

Scientific studies by and large tend to disagree about the effectiveness of acupuncture on ligament damage, although there is promising evidence to its effectiveness on pain relief and improved circulation, both of which may contribute to recovery. What’s more, acupuncture may be more effective in reducing the risk of repeat injury than Western medicine. 

If you are a medical professional, Breeze Academy offers a range of acupuncture CPD courses that will help you to expand your practice offerings and offer your clients new solutions for soft-tissue problems, such as ligament damage. Take a look at our foundation level acupuncture course to get started or, if you’re looking for more advanced courses, try our acupuncture in sport course. We also offer an advanced acupuncture CPD course covering the lower limbs.

Take a look online today, or get in touch with us for more information.

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