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Medical Acupuncture for Long-Covid Symptoms

A few weeks ago, we published a blog about Long-Covid, what it is and how physiotherapy can help you.

In this follow-up, I describe how we as physiotherapists can use our experience and skills in Western Medical Acupuncture to help alleviate the symptoms of Long-Covid.

A quick recap: The umbrella term Long-Covid is used to describe the persistence of symptoms for longer than 12 weeks. Some common Long-Covid symptoms include:

  • Shortness of breath
  • Fatigue
  • Insomnia
  • Headaches, confusion, or seizures
  • Reduced concentration or "brain fog."
  • Joint or muscle pain
  • Chest Pain or tightness
  • Cough
  • Loss of Smell (anosmia)

acupuncture long covidAcupuncture for Insomnia

Acupuncture can be helpful in the treatment of insomnia and poor sleep for a few different reasons. Acupuncture has central regulatory effects, including within the brain's limbic system (our emotional centre) and our autonomic nervous system, which controls our 'fight or flight' responses to stress. Acupuncture triggers an overall calming effect following setting us up for a better night's sleep. There is also research to show that acupuncture promotes melatonin production. Melatonin is a hormone naturally produced by our bodies that helps regulate our sleep-wake cycle, encouraging a good night's sleep.

Acupuncture for Fatigue

Perhaps the main benefit of acupuncture for fatigue is improvement in sleep quality and patterns, as discussed above. However, acupuncture has another effect that can be beneficial in managing fatigue - the release of endorphins. Endorphins are commonly known as our 'feel-good' chemicals produced naturally within the body and result in a feeling of increased well-being and alertness.

Acupuncture for Breathlessness

While there are many schools of thought on how exactly acupuncture works in relieving breathlessness, the benefits are widely discussed in the literature across many different conditions. Some experts suggest that the benefits are due to relaxing hyperactive respiratory muscles and regulating the autonomic nervous system, as described above. Regardless of the mechanisms, there is little doubt that clinically acupuncture can assist in reducing the symptoms of shortness of breath.

Acupuncture for Pain and Headaches

There are many reasons we can successfully treat and relieve pain in the body using acupuncture. One such reason is the release of endorphins I mentioned earlier. Endorphins act on the opioid receptors in the brain similar to how opiate drugs such as morphine might and thus modulate pain and promote a sense of well-being. We also know acupuncture promotes the release of other neuromediators such as dopamine, serotonin, and noradrenaline, which positively influence pain perception.

Muscular tension, which can be of particular importance in treating headaches, has also been shown to decrease in response to acupuncture treatment.

Here at Mount Merrion Physiotherapy & Health, we often combine Medical Acupuncture with other treatment techniques such as therapeutic exercises, pacing strategies, and lifestyle advice to achieve the best results for our patients.

By Sadbh O'Flaherty BSc Physio.
Chartered Physiotherapist

Bibliography:

Cao, H., Pan, X., Li, H., & Liu, J. (2009). Acupuncture for the treatment of insomnia: a systematic review of randomized controlled trials. Journal of alternative and complementary medicine (New York, N.Y.), 15(11), 1171–1186.

Gong YB, Yang ZL, Liu Y, Zhang Y, Jiang K, Shi XJ, Deng YH, Zhang X, Wu W, Zhang CY, Zhou J. Two cases of coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) treated with the combination of acupuncture and medication in bedridden patients. World J Acupunct Moxibustion. 2020 Oct;30(3):171-174. doi: 10.1016/j.wjam.2020.07.005. Epub 2020 Jul 17. PMID: 32837108; PMCID: PMC7367001.

Han Z, Zhang Y, Wang P, Tang Q, Zhang K. Is acupuncture effective in the treatment of COVID-19 related symptoms? Based on bioinformatics/network topology strategy. Brief Bioinform. 2021 Sep 2;22(5):bbab110. doi: 10.1093/bib/bbab110. PMID: 33866350; PMCID: PMC8083275.

Park JY, Namgung U. Electroacupuncture therapy in inflammation regulation: current perspectives. J Inflamm Res. 2018 May 17;11:227-237. doi: 10.2147/JIR.S141198. PMID: 29844696; PMCID: PMC5963483.

Zhang Q, Gong J, Dong H, Xu S, Wang W, Huang G. Acupuncture for chronic fatigue syndrome: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Acupunct Med. 2019 Aug;37(4):211-222. doi: 10.1136/acupmed-2017-011582. Epub 2019 Jun 17. PMID: 31204859.

Zhang, J., He, Y., Huang, X., Liu, Y., & Yu, H. (2020). The effects of acupuncture versus sham/placebo acupuncture for insomnia: A systematic review and meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials. Complementary therapies in clinical practice, 41, 101253.

https://medicalacupuncture.org/for-physicians/research/audette-covid-paper/

https://bmas.blog/2021/04/20/insomnia/

https://bmas.blog/2018/09/24/breathless/

 

 

 

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