Day three of my foundation acupuncture course; the combination of full days of learning and a plethora of needles that had adorned by limbs and trunk had profoundly improved my sleep. I was speedily a convert to acupuncture’s benefits.
I am a runner. More than that I have a fairly unhealthy addiction to running. As a result of the hours devoted to the course and the commute, three days of practicals meant three days without my usual mileage. To dive back into the habit, I gifted myself the challenge of a dawn half marathon the morning after the course concluded. Less than twenty-four hours prior, the final afternoon of the course was spent on “Vigorous Dry Needling” and by that I mean forcing ‘trigger points’ into submission with large needles moving in, out and around with some gusto. My practice partner had spent an excessive amount of time executing this method on my deepest gluteal muscles or rather what felt like an attempt to tattoo her initials on the interior aspect of my ischium. Following this treatment I was sore, with growing concerns that running 13.1 miles on these glutes might not be wise.
Enthusiasm ultimately conquered wisdom and I set off feeling tired and heavy. Playlist and mindset firmly set on ‘chillout’. Hill, road, breathe, coast, dunes, perspire, and a fight back up the hill. Hand outstretched again on the familiar wood of my front door. I looked at my watch… a 4 minute personal best! I was shocked to the point of checking my watch was indeed functioning. How could I have achieved such a notable improvement with such minimal effort. Was it the acupuncture?
There have been several studies exploring both the effects of dry needling and acupuncture on sports performance. Perhaps more closely related to my outcomes, Ma et al explored the effects of trigger point dry needling on neuromuscular performance and pain in individuals suffering patellofemoral pain syndrome (PFPS). The study concluded that trigger point dry needling at quadriceps (combined with stretch) lead to better outcomes for pain and improved the function of vastus medialis oblique and vastus lateralis in patients with PFPS.
Alongside the dry needling I’d suffered just over 12 hours before my run, I must also take into consideration the acupuncture received across the three days prior. Hübscher et al presented a study on the immediate effects of acupuncture on strength performance. They found that in ‘recreational athletes’, one acupuncture treatment improved isometric quadriceps strength. In this study, the perceived strength gain was measured less than 5 minutes after the intervention and as such is not directly comparable to my own gains. It is, however, thought provoking. I aim to explore this topic further with my own performance as well as that of my patients. Lower limb weakness being a main contributor to falls in the elderly, acupuncture may be a key component for a strengthening armamentarium in the rehabilitation scenario.
Jenna Brassington | Senior Physiotherapist
Ma YT, Li LH, Han Q, Wang XL, Jia PY, Huang QM, Zheng YJ. Effects of trigger point dry needling on neuromuscular performance and pain of individuals affected by patellofemoral pain: a randomized controlled trial. Journal of Pain Research. 2020;13:1677.
Hübscher M, Vogt L, Ziebart T, et al. Immediate effects of acupuncture on strength performance: a randomized, controlled crossover trial. Eur J Appl Physiol 2010; 110:353–8.