Motor Point Needling Relieves Common Sports Injuries

PROVIDENCE, RI—In a gathering of alternative medicine practitioners, Matt Callison stands out. A sports trainer—clean-cut and athletic in appearance—he freely tosses around physiological terms like "ATP imbalance" and "PNF [proprioceptor neuromuscular facilitation] stretching."

But he also practices traditional Oriental medicine, and his unusual combination of experience brought a fresh perspective to the participants of the Oriental Medicine 2000 conference, a national gathering of practitioners sponsored by Four Gates Communications, American Specialty Health Networks, and the New England School of Acupuncture. He explained and demonstrated his technique for treating sports injuries of the hip and lower extremities.

Motor points for treatment of common sports injuries of the hip and lower extremities. Adapted from: "Motor Point Manual: An Acupuncturist's Guide to Needling Motor Points" by Matt Callison.

Drawing equally from conventional sports training and sports medicine as well as acupuncture, he has developed an approach he believes "is extremely efficacious and not commonly known or used." He applies acupuncture needles at specific muscle motor points—the area where nerves enter into muscles. These points are usually located in the center of the muscles and sometimes coincide with traditional acupuncture points.

The need for alternative approaches to common sports injuries is clear. Conventional sports medicine has made huge strides in treating major injuries with expensive surgery and physical rehabilitation efforts. But most primary care doctors have little beyond rest, ice, and anti-inflammatory medications to offer patients with tendinitis, bursitis, or frequent or chronic sprains.

Stimulating motor points seems to "reset" dysfunctioning muscle spindles affected by trauma, said Mr. Callison, who teaches at the Pacific College of Oriental Medicine. He also supervises Pacific College acupuncture students in internships at the University of California, San Diego's Sports Medicine Center and teaches a course at San Diego State University in acupuncture point anatomy.

"Physical therapists and electrodiagnosticians use motor points all the time," applying external electrostimulation for rehabilitation in stroke and postoperative patients. "It's like hitting pay dirt." Current published literature has demonstrated that stimulating the motor points causes the muscle to "jump."

Callison suggests acupuncture, by going through the skin, allows the practitioner to get closer to the motor point and thus has a more profound effect than external stimulation. Adding mild electrostimulation through the needles (a common and painless practice in acupuncture) further heightens the effect, he believes.

A number of overuse injuries, such as tendinitis in the knee, are the result of imbalance within opposing muscle groups: one muscle is excessively shortened while the antagonist is excessively lengthened. This puts excessive tension on the tendons, predisposing the area to injury.

Mr. Callison hypothesized that by stimulating motor point, an action potential is created, causing fasciculation and resetting the dysfunctioning muscle spindles. He assesses the efficacy of his treatments by measuring range of motion in the affected extremity before and after acupuncture at the motor point.

The treatment has also been successful for low back pain, Achilles tendinitis, shoulder impingement, and other conditions, according to Mr. Callison. He's currently engaged in a trial comparing treatment of shin splints with typical sports training approaches, acupuncture alone, and a combination of the two. "So far, the subjects in the acupuncture-only group seem to be doing the best," he says.

In an ongoing study of motor point acupuncture for patients with chronic ankle sprain, Mr. Callison evaluates levels of ankle instability by having patients stand on a balance board for 30 seconds; under the board, a bladder connected to a machine measures the amount of movement. After treatment with acupuncture, patients often demonstrate a substantial improvement in balance, which suggests improved ankle stability.

In some cases, he uses moxibustion (application of heat at acupuncture points) before moving on to needles; he also prescribes herbal remedies common to Chinese medicine. However, he continues to incorporate common Western therapeutic approaches, such as stretching, targeted exercises, orthotics, and deep tissue massage to help patients prevent re-injury.

In his book, Motor Point Manual: An Acupuncturist's Guide to Needling Motor Points, he explains his approach and gives instructions on where and how to needle motor points for specific muscles. The accompanying poster identifies motor points and correlates them with acupuncture meridians. To order the book and poster, contact him at 4822 Santa Monica Avenue, #131, San Diego, CA 92107; 619-224-1113; This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .

THE REDUX: Application of acupuncture needles to motor points—the spot at which nerve fibers enter muscles—is often helpful in treating common sports injuries like tendinitis, shoulder impingements, chronic spasms or sprains. Since motor points are often different from classical Chinese acupuncture points, this technique represents a new fusion of Western sports medicine and Eastern healing arts.

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