Acupuncture: The Panacea for Pain
A traditional medicinal modality in China for thousands of years, acupuncture is now an accepted form of pain relief in the U.S. as well. There are currently many research studies devoted to exploring the efficacy of acupuncture in the treatment of pain and the means by which it accomplishes just that.
Acupuncture has a powerful effect on the nervous system and the brain, thereby inducing stress relief and helping to reset an overactive nervous system that is in a pain cycle. Acupuncture has been shown to release endorphins—natural pain killers—and is believed to have an effect on serotonin levels, both of which would explain its analgesic effect.
Acupuncture may be useful as an adjunct treatment or an acceptable alternative to be included in a comprehensive pain management program. Low back pain, joint pain, and soft tissue injury are among the most common complaints treated in an acupuncture clinic.
How does it Work?
The stimulation of Acupuncture points:
- relaxes muscles, which reduces pressure on discs and possibly impinged nerves
- reduces inflammation
- reduces swelling and therefore increases mobility and flexibility
- reduces pain: stimulates the release of endorphins, which are the body’s own painkillers
- increases circulation which improves the body’s own healing response and flushes away toxins produced by injury.
The Benifits of Acupuncture
- immediate decrease of pain
- long lasting relief of symptoms
- increased mobility
- lower need for pain medications, less side effects
- can be used in conjunction with other modalities and increase their effectiveness
- speeds up healing and reduces recovery time if used pre- and post-surgery
What to expect in a treatment plan
Acupuncture treatments have a cumulative effect. For this reason, a typical acupuncture protocol begins with one or two treatments per week. As the patient responds and symptoms dissipate, the treatments will be spaced out. With acute pain episodes, the patient may be rendered pain-free and no longer need acupuncture for that particular problem. With chronic pain, the acupuncturist will work with the patient to develop a long-term plan where the individual may receive acupuncture on a regular, but less frequent basis, such as once every four-six weeks. Most patients report that the ‘side-effects’ of acupuncture are decreased stress, improved sleep, mood, and energy.
Acupuncture is effective for the treatment of chronic pain and is therefore a reasonable referral option.
In one study of over 20,000 patients at UCLA, acupuncture reduced both the frequency and severity of muscle tension, headaches, and migraines.
(B. Millman. “Acupuncture: Context and Critique.” Annual Review of Medicine 28 (1977), 223-236.)
Another study, involving 204 patients suffering from chronic painful conditions, resulted in 74% experiencing significant relief for over three months after acupuncture treatment.
(J. Cheung. “Effect of Electroacupuncture on Chronic Painful Conditions in General Medical Practice-A Four-Years’ Study.” American Journal of Chinese Medicine 13 (1985), 33-38.)