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Home » Recent News » Acupuncture and Musicians: What, When, How, Why?

Acupuncture and Musicians: What, When, How, Why?


Acupuncture can be a very effective treatment for many conditions both acute (recent) or chronic (recurring). Some examples for musicians would include tendonitis, carpal tunnel and ulnar tunnel syndromes, neck and back pain, and other repetitive motion/overuse type injuries acquired while learning their craft. Acupuncture often works in cases where other treatment methods have failed, and is also commonly used for pain control, headaches, and to help curb or alleviate addiction type behavior.

When inserted into specific areas or points in the body, acupuncture needles assist in promoting circulation and releasing natural pain relievers called endorphins. These endorphins can help to promote a sense of calm and relaxation. Acupuncture needles also send signals to the brain via nerve fibers which travel more quickly than pain fibers, allowing the brain to process the signal from the acupuncture treatment first and to ward off pain second. When muscles are in spasm and have knots in them (many times due to overuse type injuries), they can sometimes be too tender to treat with other methods, in which case acupuncture provides a more gradual and painless release of these areas, which more aggressive techniques may initially make worse.

Acupuncture needles are very thin, as opposed to needles commonly used to draw blood or give injections, which are hollow and large and painful when inserted into the skin—hence our natural fear of needles stemming from childhood when we had to “get our shots.” Usually, one will not even feel the acupuncture needles when inserted. Occasionally, one may feel a slight pinch, which should go away as quickly as it is felt. If one feels pain longer than that slight pinch, the application is being done incorrectly and needs to be altered or the needle should be withdrawn.

Most acupuncturists feel that health is maintained by chi, which is said to be a vital life energy that flows throughout the body. This chi is believed to flow via channels that course through the body called meridians, and if the flow of chi is uninterrupted, health is maintained. If there is an interruption of this chi flow, pain and various health problems can result. By inserting acupuncture needles into certain points located throughout the body and along these meridians, the interrupting blockage can be dispersed allowing chi or energy to flow freely and optimal health can be restored.

It is interesting to note that these meridians flow in the same way and directions as certain nerve chains anatomically throughout the body. Whether one believes in the theory of chi and meridians or one believes in more western medical type explanations such as endorphins, nerve chains, and knots in muscles, there can be common ground in these different ideologies as they come to similar conclusions.

So when should one—in this case specifically, a musician—seek out an acupuncturist? I am a chiropractor and an acupuncturist, and depending on the condition, situation, and individual, acupuncture may or may not be my first choice of treatment. I find it particularly useful when pain medications, physical therapy, massage, and other methods are either not working any more, such as in chronic or arthritic conditions, many times in the hands, or if there is a new condition involving muscle spasms, joint pain, and tenderness that other treatment methods could aggravate. Acupuncture also helps many times when surgery seems to be the only option left, commonly in carpal tunnel or shoulder problems such as bursitis or small rotator cuff tears. Of course, there are many variables, but these are some of the more common issues musicians present with in my office on a daily basis.

Depending on where one lives, laws differ on who may practice acupuncture. A Doctor of Oriental Medicine will frequently prescribe herbs along with the acupuncture treatment, and likely will favor a more holistic approach, treating different areas in the body even if one is experiencing their problem in a specific area. They also may offer a more esoteric diagnosis than, for example, simple tendonitis, based on their training and belief system. Chiropractors and medical doctors will frequently treat the areas in question and, unless specifically trained, will not offer an herbal prescription, although again this may differ according to their training, preference, and laws governing their practices in their geographical location.

I tend to treat the patient mainly in the area of complaint and any adjoining areas that may directly affect the problem area, and have much success in this way. My best advice on this matter is, when seeking an acupuncturist, as in any other health care professional, one should get a proper diagnosis so that you know what the problem is, that it is being treated properly, and if communication needs to happen with other health care practitioners so everyone is on the same page. It should be noted that a treatment method using needles called “dry needling” is not acupuncture, and means different things to different professions.

All things considered, in the hands of a skilled practitioner acupuncture can be a very useful treatment method for many conditions chronic or acute, and for musicians it may be a valuable resource.

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