Can Acupuncture Heal Damaged Ligaments?

Damaged ligaments

Last Updated on November 18, 2022

Ligaments are strong connective tissue bands that connect bones to bones. They are similar to tendons which connect muscles to bones. Ligaments are found between most bones of the body and function to limit movement between bones. Ligament damage often occurs during injuries. Once damaged, they cause destabilization of joints and are often slow to heal.

What is a Torn Ligament?

Torn ligaments occur when joints are stressed beyond their normal range of motion. This happens when we twist quickly or change direction abruptly.

A ligament stretched beyond its capacity will begin to tear. The degree of tearing can be minimal to a complete tear, depending on the force. And they commonly occur in the legs, knees, spine, hand, wrist, or elbows. 

The diagnosis of a ligament injury begins with a physical examination and medical history. From there, diagnostic tests will be ordered to confirm the injury and assess the damage. This usually includes an X-ray and Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) for soft tissue injuries. Ligament injuries are graded based on their severity. The three grades of injury are:

Grade I – Mild Ligament Tear or Sprain

Grade 1 sprains often heal within a few weeks. The strength of the ligament will recover fully after six to eight weeks. It is important to rest to avoid re-injury while healing. 

Treatment with acupuncture helps improve circulation to the ligament supplying important nutrients for recovery and providing natural pain relief.

Grade II – Moderate Ligament Tear or Strain

Grade II sprains are more significant. There may be more swelling and bruising with these injuries. These injuries require rest and stabilization of the joint.

After a grade II injury, return to activity is more carefully monitored and requires recovery of coordination and joint stability. Depending on the injury, this can take anywhere from six to twelve weeks.

Acupuncture treatment improves circulation to the ligament, aiding healing. Acupuncture also improves proprioception to the muscles involved in stabilizing and moving the affected joint. This is an important part of complete recovery.

Related: How to Find a Good Acupuncturist

Grade III – Complete Ligament Tear

Grade III sprain is a significant injury. This is a complete tearing of the ligament and will often require surgical intervention for a complete recovery.

Acupuncture helps improve recovery time by increasing circulation to the joint, stimulating the muscles involved, relieving pain, and reducing the dependence on pain medications shown to slow recovery.

Inner Gate Health & Wellness is a Portland-area complementary medicine practice offering acupuncture and other modalities to reduce pain, promote healing, and support a variety of health needs. Learn more about our services today.

Why Acupuncture is a Great Choice for Ligament Injuries

Ligament injuries, which are most commonly found in sports medicine but also may be common in workplace injuries, are hard to rehabilitate. There is no bone to set and brace. There is usually limited intervention that surgery can provide. And it just takes time for the body to heal. Time that most athletes and workers don’t want or can’t afford to wait. 

Acupuncture can provide effective treatment that speeds things up. It’s not a miracle cure, but it does stimulate the body physiologically in ways that rest doesn’t. For one, acupuncture can relieve muscle tension caused by compensating for the ligament injury. It can also work as a natural pain killer to alleviate discomfort without addictive opioid drugs. And because it improves circulation, it also supports a quicker recovery. Acupuncture works best as part of a total treatment plan that also includes other interventions like physical therapy.

Healing Ligament Injuries with Acupuncture

While western medicine relies on drugs to block pain and reduce inflammation, often prescribing rest that is sometimes supplemented with physical therapy, there are alternatives in complementary medicine that can get you back on your feet quicker. Acupuncture is a treatment that stimulates the body using small needles inserted at specific touchpoints. It’s been practiced in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) for thousands of years, and over the last few decades, it has become popular in the western world. 

Acupuncture is a recognized modality by the National Institute of Health (NIH) and the World Health Organization (WHO). It provides a safe treatment option with rare and minimal adverse side effects. Acupuncture works by stimulating the body to release natural hormones that alleviate pain and promote healing. Its use isn’t limited to ligament injuries, but many people have found this treatment effective. 

How Acupuncture Helps Heal the Body

Acupuncture can be a great tool to help speed up the recovery of soft tissue injuries, including ligaments. These needles essentially stimulate the body to self-heal by:

  • Improving Blood Flow
  • Reducing or Blocking Pain Signals in the Central Nervous System
  • Stimulating the Release of Pain-Killing Hormones
  • Promoting Healthy Organ Function
  • Relaxing Muscles & Preventing Painful Spasms
  • Restoring Qi to the Injured Tissue

Related: Acupuncture for Tennis Elbow

How Acupuncture Measures Up Against Traditional Western Medical Advice

TCM takes an entirely different approach to healing compared to the Western world. In Chinese medicine, treatments are focused on promoting or restoring blood flow to support energy flow or “qi.” Acupuncture effectively stimulates cells responsible for healing and improving circulation to the affected area. 

But the most common medical advice that doctors in Western medicine provide for the same injury is RICE: rest, ice, compression, and elevation. You’ve probably been told to use an ice pack or stay off your feet while your injury heals. Perhaps you’ve wrapped the ligament tightly in a compression bandage to provide support and spent hours with your leg (or arm) propped up above your heart. This advice is geared towards reducing inflammation and not necessarily directed towards healing the injury. 

Reducing inflammation does reduce discomfort and may aid in the healing process, but it’s a slow boat. Cold temperatures from ice can restrict blood vessels, slowing blood flow to the injury. Compression does the same thing. Rest can also negatively impact circulation. When you return to the doctor weeks later without significant healing, they want to inject steroids to alleviate your pain and sign you up for physical therapy. The steroids are again directed at reducing inflammation and improving your comfort–not healing the injury. Although physical therapy is likely to help.

It’s not that acupuncture is necessarily superior to Western medicine; it’s simply that the two take different approaches to heal these types of injuries. And in many cases, acupuncture may provide a quicker recovery by focusing on healing rather than comfort. For many ligament injuries, the two can work well together.

Dos and Dont’s of Treating Ligament Injuries with Acupuncture

If you suffer a ligament injury, you should seek treatment from a skilled practitioner sooner rather than later. These types of injuries can turn into chronic pain if not treated in a timely manner. If you choose acupuncture, the duration of treatments depends on the injury. You are likely to have a few treatments per week for two to six weeks for an acute injury. And for chronic injuries, you may have weekly appointments for six weeks or more.

Ice is okay to use immediately following an injury. But you should limit your use of ice to ten-minute increments and discontinue after the first 24 hours. It can be beneficial to keep inflammation down and provide some relief, but it is not a long-term treatment and may slow down your recovery.

Begin by ruling out surgery. Severe ligament damage may require surgical intervention, a Western medicine modality. If the initial evaluation determines that your injury is a mild or moderate sprain, you can then seek out acupuncture treatments to help speed up your recovery. And if surgery is required for a torn ligament, acupuncture may be able to support your post-op healing. 

Related: Injury Rehab Exercises to Try at Home

Is Acupuncture Right For You?

While traditional medicine may struggle to treat soft tissue injuries like damaged ligaments, many have found relief through acupuncture. It’s becoming a more mainstream treatment option and is now covered by many insurance plans.

Are you searching for relief from a damaged ligament or another soft tissue injury? Learn more about our Portland acupuncture services!

Related: Chiropractic Vs. Acupuncture

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