Perhaps the most well known and researched application of acupuncture is in its effective treatment of any type of pain. Ranging from headache and migraines to acute trauma, arthritis pain to abdominal pain, back pain including neck pain or lower back pain, acupuncture offers quick, effective relief with no side effects. Pain itself is not a diagnosis, but an indication that there is a problem somewhere in the body. Often times it reflects where the problem is, for example wrist pain as a reflection of overuse or carpal tunnel syndrome. In other cases, though, it may reflect a problem somewhere else in the body, as in headaches or migraines that are due to hormonal fluctuations, or leg pain resulting from a problem in the back.
Intensity of pain usually indicates how severe the problem is. The characteristics of pain give information about what is happening in the body. Sharp pain versus dull pain, acute pain or lingering low levels of pain can all indicate what is happening in the body. It is important to notice these signals when we first receive them and to address the problem. If we don’t often times the body will send out stronger and stronger signs of the problem, reflected in the increased levels of pain and discomfort.
Common painful conditions we treat include:
How does Acupuncture treat pain?
Pain, in a very general sense, is seen as a blockage of qi and blood in the body. The treatment therefore, is based on removing the blockage and restoring the flow of qi and blood to relieve the pain. Acupuncture is an excellent and effective choice for all types of pain because it can quickly alleviate the pain symptoms and at the same time begin the body’s healing response. In Chinese medicine, by far the most common treatment for pain will rely on acupuncture needles. The needles are placed on the body in specific locations along pathways, which are known as meridians. The needles, which are placed locally and distally to the location of the pain, work to move the qi and remove the stagnation, which relieves pain. Acupuncture functions to raise endorphin levels and decrease the sensation of pain, decrease inflammation and swelling, relax muscles and stop spasms, and increase blood flow to the local area promoting healing.
Arthritis indicates inflammation, and there are two main types, osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis. Osteoarthritis is a wearing down, or degradation, of cartilage that functions to cushion our joints, and hypertrophy of bone at these joints due to the increased stress. The pain often affects the large joints of the body, hips, knees, and shoulders. It can come on slowly, or you may wake one day with severe pain. Rheumatoid arthritis is an inflammatory disease of the immune system. It results in hot, swollen and painful joints, which often begin in the small joints of the body, fingers, toes, wrists or ankles. Both types of arthritis are common in older individuals, beginning often in those over 60 years old. Once it sets in, it can quickly affect many parts of the body and become debilitating, preventing one to be able to continue with daily activities.
Acupuncture can increase blood circulation to the joints, decreasing inflammation and increasing the fluids that help keep joints lubricated. It can be used to relieve the symptoms of the disease and also slow down the progression as well. Acupuncture is a good alternative for pain management as it helps strengthen the entire body and does not have the serious side effects associated with pain medication.
What to Expect
It is important to know what to expect when considering acupuncture for the treatment of your arthritis. As with all acupuncture treatment, generally the longer you have had the disease, the longer it will take to resolve. The quickest results occur in those with a relatively short history of symptoms. If you have had arthritis pain for 5 years or more, it generally takes between 6 to 8 treatments to notice significant lasting effects from the treatment.
The most famous recent acupuncture study involved osteoarthritis of the knee sponsored by the National Institute of Health.
More information on acupuncture and osteoarthritis:
Headaches & Migraines
Almost everyone has experienced a headache at some point in their lives. Millions though, suffer from debilitating headaches including migraines on a regular basis. The National Headache Foundation reports that over 45 million Americans suffer headaches, and 28 million of these are migraines. Headaches can have many causes. In some people certain foods can trigger pain, in others hormonal fluctuations associated with menstruation, pregnancy or menopause, and tension or stress are all common triggers. Much research has been done supporting acupunctures effectiveness in treating headaches. In TCM there are many possible causes for headaches. We look for a pattern of symptoms that will help diagnosis the disharmony occurring in your body. When the pattern is recognized, a treatment plan can be determined and treatment can begin.
What to Expect
Many people experience relief fairly quickly after treatment but may need to maintain treatment over a period of time in order to prevent onset of further headaches and solve the root imbalance in the body. The number of treatments you will need will be determined after your initial intake discussion and depend upon how long you have been suffering and the severity of your pain. In general, the longer you have been suffering, the longer it will take to resolve the root problem.
More information on the treatment of headaches with acupuncture:
Back pain is one of the most common reasons people seek medical care. Over 80% of the world’s population has reported some type of back pain in their lives. The causes of back pain range from acute muscle sprains or strains, bulging or herniated disks, which may cause local or radiating pain, or sciatica which is an inflammation/irritation of the sciatic nerve which runs from the lower back through the buttocks and down both legs. Back injury may occur from injury, poor posture, weak muscles, or degenerative disorders.
Acupuncture is well known to be able to stop pain in general, and has been used to treat both acute and chronic back pain. According to the theories of Chinese medicine, pain is a result of a blockage of qi and blood, and acupuncture can help to break up the blockage, restore the normal flow of qi and blood relieving pain. In general the more acute the back pain, the quicker it will respond to treatment. This varies, of course, depending on what is causing the pain. Muscle pain usually responds a bit quicker than problems with the disks or sciatic nerve. Many people experience relief from pain after the first few treatments. Even with these more chronic disorders, you should experience fairly quick relief after a series of 3 – 6 treatments, but it may take further treatments in order to provide lasting effects.
Fibromyalgia is one of the most common painful syndromes of unknown origin. It affects 3-6% of the population in the United States, predominately women between the ages of 20–50 years old. Characteristically patients experience widespread pain, aching and stiffness of the muscles and soft tissues, accompanied by insomnia, fatigue and depression. The symptoms vary from person to person, and can change depending of weather, stress, physical activity, or just the time of day. It is considered a syndrome, a collection of symptoms, with no known cause. Because of this there is not any effective, satisfying treatments available for those who are suffering. Fibromyalgia is just beginning to be understood by the medical community and there are many theories regarding its cause.
Chinese medicine is well suited to treat this particular condition. Because of its focus on the individual, and the particular symptoms they are experiencing we can tailor a treatment specific to the types of symptoms they are feeling. For example, one patient may be very affected by the weather, and their symptoms may change dramatically based on the season while another feels no change with weather but instead feels more symptoms in times of stress. To practice Chinese medicine we must take into account these differences in the individual, and direct the treatment specifically to them. Acupuncture has been shown to be effective in the treatment of fibromyalgia. With proper treatment we can help to reduce the pain, and also try to minimize those things that tend to aggravate the pain such as stress and insomnia or fatigue.
Self care is critical to the treatment of fibromyalgia. Patients must try to eliminate stress, get adequate amounts of sleep and rest, and avoid overexertion while maintaining some mild forms of exercise and movement, (those who become too sedentary will tend to feel worse).
Recent studies on treating fibromyalgia with acupuncture: