Percussion Therapy: An Experiment
My study of qi began more than 20 years ago — long before my study of TCM, points or pathways. It all started with an awareness in my hands and physical manifestations in the way of blockages while working on clients. The reason I decided to to become an acupuncturist is because of the recommendation of another acupuncturist. She and I felt qi in similar ways. Her advice to me was to attend acupuncture school, with the promise that in the end I would finally realize why I felt what I felt.
She was right. The study of channels and pathways has been an incredible experience. I love putting a needle in an acupuncture point and having the patient experience immediate physiological changes in the body. I've loved expanding my treatment options with lasers and microcurrent. There's no doubt there are multiple ways to move qi in the channels without a needle. I actually specialize in non-needle acupuncture techniques in my clinic. Because this is one of my passions, I'm always looking for new effective ways to move qi.
Recently, I came across a percussion therapy treatment device which caught my attention. My first experience was in a chiropractor's office. A practitioner used the device to relax my tight muscles before treatment. I was quite impressed with how effectively it moved qi throughout my body, not just on a superficial level, but deep into my core. My experience was enough to pique my curiosity and drive me to do a little research on the device.
The device uses vibration and percussion at the same time for surface-level myofascial work. The device allows you to select frequencies within ranges relative to alpha or low beta brain wave state. Modern research suggests specific frequency range puts the brain into a meditative state known as alpha-wave. Apparently, this frequency is also the most conducive to tissue healing.
Chiropractors, osteopaths and physical therapists use vibration therapy devices for deep fascial restrictions, thus resolving problems such as scar tissue adhesions, lymphatic congestion, muscle soreness, spasms, joint fixations, and range-of-motion problems. The practitioner's goal is to facilitate movement in the deep fascia where disease patterns are stored.
A light bulb should be going on right about now for acupuncturists. All that sounds a lot like qi, blood and damp stagnation in the body, right? I've always been fascinated with the role of fascia in relation to acupuncture theory.
Have you ever been to one of those Body Exhibit presentations? I attended my first exhibit while in college. Taking a close-up look at fascia was fascinating. Fascia is a continuum of fibrous connective tissue that runs uninterrupted through the entire body — from top to bottom, left to right, and from the inner core to the outer peripheral aspects of the body. If you take everything else away, it's amazing to see the web-like structure left behind, which holds our bodies together. This really helped me recognize the power of acupuncture channels and internal pathways.
Fascia affects all movement in the body, whether gross muscular/joint movements used for walking, bending, turning, twisting, etc., or minute, subtle movement that happen on a microscopic level. Fascia lines the venous, nervous and lymphatic systems and also affects subtle movements such as movement of fluid and neurological impulses.
Connective tissue is very strong and can handle 2000 pounds of pressure per square inch. When fascia becomes distorted or restricted in some way via scar tissue, blockages or adhesions, the result is restricted movement. Restrictions of movement within the fascia tissue can cause big problems with any system that runs through the body. This web of connective tissue that runs throughout the body is made up of liquid pliable crystals that conduct electricity...Sounds like qi, huh?
Research studies have connected movement of qi to the piezoelectric effect. Fascia is a semi-conductor that helps transport electrical energy, we'll just call it qi, over long distances. Piezoelectric effect is the ability of certain materials to generate an electric charge in response to applied mechanical stress. The word Piezoelectric is derived from the Greek piezein, which means to squeeze or press, and piezo, which is Greek for "push."
Any movement in the body creates the piezoelectric effect. Subtle movement of blood pulsations, electrical pulses through the nervous system and movement of cerebral spinal fluid press and deform liquid crystals and create the piezo electricity. Gross muscle movements do, too.
Acupuncture needles create friction in the fascia to stimulate the piezoelectric effect as well. One thought process suggests when you create a qi sensation, it is actually friction in the fascia that creates a chain reaction, sending electrical impulses through the body to affect muscles, tendons, ligaments, blood flow, internal organs, hormones, etc.
How about ATP production? We know acupuncture increases levels of ATP production in the body. This could very well be the result of manipulating the fascia. The piezoelectric effect causes semi-conduction of piezo electricity. Could this be a scientific explanation to an esoteric theory explaining life force energy within the body? Sounds like qi again, huh?
I came across this statement made back in 1874 by Dr. Andrew Tyler Still, the founder of osteopathy, which presented a very interesting and extremely wise approach to healing and disease, considering it was made before any scientific data on fascia was even published. He claimed you could look to fascia to study the beginning and the end of the disease process. If fascia tissue is free flowing, then system of the body work well, while blockages in fascia tissue cause disease. I think he was onto something.
According to research I had done up to this point, it seemed the theory behind percussion therapy work was to find and remove "interferences" within the fascia structure to create an environment of free-flowing energy for optimal healing. This kind of sounds like what I'm trying to accomplish in an acupuncture treatment. Everything I do in the treatment room revolves around regulating qi and blood stagnation. All diseases begin with qi and blood deficiency and/or stagnation. My goal is simple. Find blockages and get energy flowing correctly so the body will heal itself.
A hypothesis started forming in my head. What if I were able to jump-start the flow of qi and blood before I did an acupuncture treatment? What if I used my percussion therapy device along the urinary bladder channel on the back to stimulate the back shu points before I began treatment? It seemed logical. If I stimulated the back shu points, created an environment of a healing meditative state via the optimal frequency range with percussion therapy, and then did acupuncture — I would get better results.
It was worth a try. I knew my patients would love it. I'd experienced it myself and it felt great. Besides, everyone has tight muscles. It couldn't hurt, right? So, I ordered a device for my clinic. A working hypothesis was formed: "Using percussion therapy before acupuncture treatment prepares the meridians, via stimulation of the fascia at specific acupuncture points with the vibrational/percussion tool, to produce better acupuncture results because of free-flowing qi."
Clinical Experience (3 Months)
I began using percussion therapy before acupuncture — to treat the Back Shu Points; SI 11 and GB 21 in the shoulder, the lower back band to include the hips and glute muscles with a specific emphasis at GB 29 and 30; and the lower leg to include GB 34, BL 58 and SP 9. The entire treatment took 5 to 7 minutes. And the patient loved it! What's not to love about having a treatment on your back which brings you to a meditative state before acupuncture? They all said it was very relaxing.
Although this was not an official clinical research study, I still found clinical results to be substantial and worth noting. I treated approximately 180 patients over a 3-month period, most of whom received percussion therapy treatment multiple times. Some were new patients and some were existing wellness patients. Typically, when I see a new patient, I expect certain results within a six-week treatment strategy. By incorporating the percussion therapy, I recognized the same level of results with most patients within four visits, instead of six. Wellness patients typically come in once a month. If patients had received treatment in conjunction with percussion therapy the previous month, they seemed to come in with fewer complaints the following month. Pain levels were down. This was especially evident in patients who came in for three months in a row.
Patients who present with a lot of liver qi and blood stagnation, who normally feel pain with needling, found the needling process less painful. Non-needle acupuncture patients typically receive treatment via microcurrent. Adding percussion therapy to their treatment brought greater results as well.
I'd like to expand my training with percussion therapy to include theories and techniques for treating fascia impingements such as frozen shoulder, plantar fasciitis and nerve impingement. A hypothesis is already forming for this process as well. I'm guessing I'll be able to get better results faster by including percussion therapy to acupuncture treatments to resolve impingements. Time will tell.
It is my experience that percussion therapy is an effective way to move qi in the acupuncture meridians without needles. Adding this modality before acupuncture treatment seems to bring better results than a stand-alone acupuncture treatment. The study of qi will probably be a life-long endeavor for me. Finding a new way to help move qi in my clinic has been great for my practice. All of my patients love it, even the ones who like needles.
- Impac Inc. Percussing Health the Fulford Way (in a nutshell) [DVD]. Salem, OR: Jeff Rockwell.
- Larson. "The Role of Connective Tissue as the Physical Medium for the Conduction of Healing Energy in Acupuncture and Rolfing." 1990.
- Jeff Rockwell. "An Energetic Approach to Chiropractic Bodywork and Osteopathy." Impac Inc. 2002.
- Jeff Rockwell. "An Instrument-Assisted Approach to Soft Tissue Injury and Pain." Impac Inc. 2011. American Journal of Acupuncture 18.3 (1990).