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Acupuncture for Pain Relief

By Vikki Nestico

1 in every 5 adults in America suffer from chronic pain. Think about it, that is a staggering number! It is no surprise then, that pain is the most common reason people find acupuncture. Living with pain keeps us from reaching our full potential. It affects our relationships, our work, our emotional capacity. Whether you’ve been suffering for a week or living with chronic pain for 20 years, Acupuncture can help to break the cycle and work to correct the root of the imbalance. The best part is, there are little to no negative side-effects!

Don’t just take my word for it. There is an ever growing body of scientific research showing acupuncture is effective in treating a variety of acute and chronic pain including back, neck, and joint pain, fibromyalgia, osteo- and rheumatoid arthritis, menstrual pain and migraines as well as pain caused by cancer and surgery. If you’re a sucker for a dense read, you can check out a few of those studies below! Otherwise, I’ve whittled them down to give you a little taste.

“Pain’s purpose is to get us to pay attention to our body so we can take steps to fix what is causing us to hurt.”

Importance of pain:

Before we talk about how acupuncture works, let’s talk about the importance of pain. The sensation has a bad reputation, but serves a very important function as our body’s alarm system. Pain’s purpose is to get us to pay attention to our body so we can take steps to fix what is causing us to hurt. Can you imagine not being able to feel pain? Not knowing if you’re burning your hand on a hot pan or stepping on a nail? Yikes!

The goal in treatment isn’t just to take the pain away. It’s about fixing the root cause. Allowing injuries to fully heal, adding exercise to strengthen muscles and increase circulation, as well as eliminating food allergies all work together to attack the root of the dysfunction. And while some doctors treat our chronic conditions with acute medicine, that only dulls the pain. It’s understandable to want immediate relief from constant and unmanageable discomfort. Dulling pain through pharmaceuticals doesn’t do anything to resolve the problem. I have even seen clients aggravate chronic pain from past injuries while on pain medications. If you don’t feel the pain you won’t know if the activity you are engaging in is aggravating the injury. And if you don’t fix the dysfunction at the root, the alarm will continue sounding!

How acupuncture works:

Now to the good stuff! I will start off by saying it’s not magic! As much as I would love to be magical, acupuncture is based on a very focused understanding of the body learned from extensive dissection done over 2000 years ago. All this when western medicine wasn’t even a glimmer in a doctor’s eye.

I will break up my explanation up between Chinese medicine and western medicine since we speak different languages when it comes to seeing and healing the body.

In Chinese medicine, we speak of pain as a result of Qi and Blood stagnation. Our body’s energy and blood are in constant circulation and when that flow gets blocked nourishment isn’t able to reach all the muscles and organs of the body. If this blockage lasts for an extended period of time it results in pain. The key is figuring out the root cause of why the Qi and blood are blocked. The spectrum of reasons include: physical trauma, emotional trauma, chemical, physical  and emotional stressors or poor diet and lifestyle habits. During treatment we balance two approaches.

  1. We choose analgesic acupuncture points that will trigger immediate pain relief and open microcirculation to the region, often without sticking a single needle into the injured area!
  2. We choose additional acupoints, as well as giving guidance on diet/lifestyle changes and herbal therapy to attack the underlying cause for long term healing.

Now switching languages to western medicine!

Basically, the reaction caused by the acupuncture needles triggers the brain to release chemicals, reduce inflammation,  and restores blood flow to increase range of motion to the painful areas. For more medical talk about exactly how this happens take a peek below at some of the medical research!

No matter which language you choose, the end result is that acupuncture breaks the pain cycle. Muscles recruited to protect old injuries are finally able to relax and  normal movement and posture is restored. You may have noticed that pain causes us to alter the way we hold our body when we stand, move and rest. Think of how a person with knee pain walks with more stress onto the healthy knee. That small change creates misalignment throughout the body as it alters the way we use our ankles, hips and and back creating more opportunity for injury and pain through the body.

My pain is from a past injury!  Injuries don’t always heal correctly and leave us with local scar tissue and other blockages making it difficult for the body to deliver nutrients to that area.

I have chronic pain but didn’t injure myself!  We see this a lot in the office. It starts out slow and becomes more frequent and intense as time goes on. In most cases the body has sent previous more subtle signals telling us there is an imbalance but we weren’t listening. Pain is a more intense way for your body to get your attention to either seek help or make changes in your lifestyle. And unless we are talking about traumatic injury it may not have been your first warning.

In either case, most RX and OTC pain medications dull pain to give us a break when discomfort feels unmanageable. This form of treatment uses acute medicine for chronic issues with no intent to change the dynamic that is causing the pain. They also come with many side effects (ugh!) leading to imbalance in other functions of the body. And in the end, without fixing the root of the problem, that alarm bell will keep sounding off!

How long does it take to see results?

Our goal is for you to notice instant reduction in your pain during your first appointment as we connect to some of those super highway points. In the first few treatments relief should last from hours to days. Acupuncture works in a cumulative manner with each appointment working off the last as we slowly reduce the severity of pain. As each client is unique the speed of healing ultimately depends on a number of factors, including the type of injury, how long it has been present, severity as well as our age, lifestyle and general health.

How many treatments will I need?

We recommend a course of 10 treatments, with 2–3 appointments per week to start. During this time we reduce the frequency of treatments as we see more lasting reduction in pain between appointments. Acupuncture has a cumulative effect like other holistic therapies so in the beginning more treatments closer together help us gain traction on healing. After the pain has been reduced or eliminated we recommend continued treatment with more focus on addressing the root cause of the pain for lasting healing.

Ready to feel better?

Let’s get you scheduled and begin your journey to feeling great! Not sure? Take a read below and check out what the western medical community is saying about traditional Chinese medicine.

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Digging a little deeper into the info:

Take a read into the science behind acupuncture’s ability to relieve pain!

Acupuncture increase blood flow:

Acupuncture increases circulation to injured areas by signaling the nervous system to constrict and dilate arterioles. Relaxing these blood vessels allows for more flow to the regions we are focused on. And why is blood flow so important? Because everything we need to heal is in that blood! That includes oxygen and nutrients, immune cells for healing and our body’s natural pain killers and feel good chemicals. (1, 2, 3, 4)

Acupuncture reduces stress induced pain:

Many of our acupoints lie over neurovascular bundles that are strongly connected to the brain. Therefore, choosing these points signal to the brain to decrease the activity of our sympathetic nervous system to create a calming effect that can reduce pain that is aggravated by stress. (5, 6, 7)

Acupuncture reduces inflammation:

Researchers have found that acupuncture treatments also reduce inflammation by promoting release of our own anti inflammatory chemicals into the blood. (8, 9, 10, 11)

 

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Resources:

  1. Han, J. S., & Terenius, L. (1982). Neurochemical Basis of Acupuncture Analgesia. Annual Review of Pharmacology and Toxicology, 22(1), 193–220. doi: 10.1146/annurev.pa.22.040182.001205
  2. Komori, M., Takada, K., Tomizawa, Y., Nishiyama, K., Kondo, I., Kawamata, M., & Ozaki, M. (2009). Microcirculatory responses to acupuncture stimulation and phototherapy. Anesthesia and analgesia, 108(2), 635–640. https://doi.org/10.1213/ane.0b013e31819317bc
  3. Litscher G. (2009). Ten Years Evidence-based High-Tech Acupuncture–A Short Review of Peripherally Measured Effects. Evidence-based complementary and alternative medicine : eCAM, 6(2), 153–158. https://doi.org/10.1093/ecam/nem145
  4. Uchida, S., & Hotta, H. (2008). Acupuncture Affects Regional Blood Flow in Various Organs. Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine, 5(2), 145–151. doi: 10.1093/ecam/nem051
  5. Kim, H., Park, H.-J., Han, S.-M., Hahm, D.-H., Lee, H.-J., Kim, K.-S., & Shim, I. (2009). The effects of acupuncture stimulation at PC6 (Neiguan) on chronic mild stress-induced biochemical and behavioral responses. Neuroscience Letters, 460(1), 56–60. doi: 10.1016/j.neulet.2009.05.008
  6. Kotani, N., Hashimoto, H., Sato, Y., Sessler, D. I., Yoshioka, H., Kitayama, M., … Matsuki, A. (2001, August 1). Preoperative Intradermal Acupuncture Reduces Postoperative Pain, Nausea and Vomiting, Analgesic Requirement, and Sympathoadrenal Responses. Retrieved from https://anesthesiology.pubs.asahq.org/article.aspx?articleid=1944615&resultClick=1
  7. Usichenko, T. I., Wolters, P., Anders, E. F., & Splieth, C. (2016). Acupuncture Reduces Pain and Autonomic Distress During Injection of Local Anesthetic in Children. The Clinical Journal of Pain, 32(1), 82–86. doi: 10.1097/ajp.0000000000000222
  8. Choi, D. C., Lee, J. Y., Moon, Y. J., Kim, S. W., Oh, T. H., & Yune, T. Y. (2010). Acupuncture-mediated inhibition of inflammation facilitates significant functional recovery after spinal cord injury. Neurobiology of Disease, 39(3), 272–282. doi: 10.1016/j.nbd.2010.04.003
  9. Silva, M. D. D., Guginski, G., Werner, M. F. D. P., Baggio, C. H., Marcon, R., & Santos, A. R. S. (2011). Involvement of Interleukin-10 in the Anti-Inflammatory Effect of Sanyinjiao (SP6) Acupuncture in a Mouse Model of Peritonitis. Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine, 2011, 1–9. doi: 10.1093/ecam/neq036
  10. Yim, Y.-K., Lee, H., Hong, K.-E., Kim, Y.-I., Lee, B.-R., Son, C.-G., & Kim, J.-E. (2007). Electro-Acupuncture at Acupoint ST36 Reduces Inflammation and Regulates Immune Activity in Collagen-Induced Arthritic Mice. Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine, 4(1), 51–57. doi: 10.1093/ecam/nel054
  11. Zijlstra, F. J., Lange, I. V. D. B.-D., Huygen, F. J. P. M., & Klein, J. (2003). Anti-inflammatory actions of acupuncture. Mediators of Inflammation, 12(2), 59–69. doi: 10.1080/0962935031000114943

. . . and more general pain related research for fun reading!

Grissa, M. H., Baccouche, H., Boubaker, H., Beltaief, K., Bzeouich, N., Fredj, N., … Nouira, S. (2016). Acupuncture vs intravenous morphine in the management of acute pain in the ED. The American Journal of Emergency Medicine, 34(11), 2112–2116. doi: 10.1016/j.ajem.2016.07.028

Lin, J.-G., & Yang, S.-H. (1999). Effects of Acupuncture on Exercise-Induced Muscle Soreness and Serum Creatine Kinase Activity. The American Journal of Chinese Medicine, 27(03n04), 299–305. doi: 10.1142/s0192415x99000343

MacPherson, H., Vertosick, E. A., Foster, N. E., Lewith, G., Linde, K., Sherman, K. J., Witt, C. M., & Vickers, A. J. (2017). The persistence of the effects of acupuncture after a course of treatment: a meta-analysis of patients with chronic pain. Pain, 158(5), 784–793. https://doi.org/10.1097/j.pain.0000000000000747

Vickers, A. J., Vertosick, E. A., Lewith, G., Macpherson, H., Foster, N. E., Sherman, K. J., … Linde, K. (2018). Acupuncture for Chronic Pain: Update of an Individual Patient Data Meta-Analysis. The Journal of Pain, 19(5), 455–474. doi: 10.1016/j.jpain.2017.11.005

 

 

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