Relieving Pain


Pain is a self-feeling which alerts us to problems of the body that need attention. The intensity of the pain usually indicates how severe the problem is. Although the location of pain often indicates where the problem is, sometimes the site of pain may be related to problems far away, such as the leg pain resulting from a herniated disk pushing on a nerve in the back. Usually pain goes away once the causing problem is solved, but in other conditions it can last for a long time. Chronic pain may be caused by an ongoing condition (such as arthritis) or by abnormal pain-sensing of the brain, or by the cause that may not be known.

To relieve pain, many people take over-the-counter medications such as acetaminophen and nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs). Stronger medications are available by prescription only. People may also try non-drug approaches to help relieve their pain. Acupuncture is best known for a non-drug approach which is able to successfully relieve pain.

How Does Acupuncture Stop Pain?

  • Traditional Chinese Theory of Acupuncture for Relieving Pain: According to traditional Chinese medicine theory, there are hundreds of acupuncture points on the body that connect to 12 principal and 8 secondary pathways called meridians. These meridians are thought to conduct Qi (energy or life force) throughout the body. Health is maintained by the unobstructed flow of Qi that regulates the physical, mental and spiritual balance. When the entire system is in balance, optimal health occurs. Disease and pain occur when there are obstructions to the flow of Qi. Acupuncture can relieve obstructions to the flow of Qi and restore general balance to relieve pain.
  • Western Theory of Acupuncture for Relieving Pain: Acupuncture is an effective approach to relieve pain. Research indicates that acupuncture is helpful for decreasing inflammation and swelling, relaxing muscles, stopping spasms and increasing local circulation. It is believed that acupuncture resolves pain by affecting several pain pathways. It can raise endorphin levels and diminish pain responses of the nervous system.

Effects of Acupuncture for Relieving Pain

Chinese medicine theory looks at the entire person, not just the one part that has symptoms. While dealing with pain conditions, acupuncture balances various parts of the body as a whole. This results in calm, peace and relaxation. Pain is stressful and can cause irritability, tension and insomnia. By relaxing the whole body, acupuncture helps eliminate these negative aspects of pain in a natural way. In addition, acupuncturists will offer suggestions for individual lifestyle improvements regarding exercise, supplements and diet, as well as sleeping and stress management techniques to help patients improve health and decrease pain. And it is found that acupuncture is helpful for many pain conditions.

  • Arthritis: The inflammation of the joints is called arthritis which is divided into two types – osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis. Both types of arthritis are common problems for many Americans, especially for the elderly. Arthritis accounts for weakness, pain, much disability, impaired quality of life, and increased health care costs. The reason why arthritis affects so many people to such a severe degree is that no curative therapies exist. Current control methods includes the use of NSAIDS, intra-articular steroid injections, hyaluronate injections, opioids, physical therapy, weight loss, exercise, surgery and joint replacement. Acupuncture appears to be effective for arthritis treatment and is likely to play an increasing role in controlling arthritis. It can increase blood circulation to joints, absorption of calcium, production of synovial fluid. And it is also helpful for reducing inflammation and swelling as it stops pain. These functions allow acupuncture to treat both types of arthritis. Therefore, acupuncture is good at eliminating symptoms and slowing down the progression of arthritis. In addition, it works in a natural way to avoid side-effects associated with most anti-inflammatory drugs used for arthritis. However, there are some important considerations to keep in mind. Acupuncture cannot reverse any deformity of the joint that has already occurred, but it can slow down further destruction and reduce accompanied symptoms. And it is commonly combined with Chinese herbal medicine to strengthen the results. Fast results will be seen in patients with a relatively short history of arthritis. Those with chronic cases for years will need 10 or more acupuncture treatments to achieve a positive change. The longer patients have arthritis, the longer it will take to eliminate the symptoms.
  • Headache/migraine: According to the National Headache Foundation, over 45 million Americans suffer from chronic headaches, the most common types of chronic headaches are tension headaches, migraines and sinus headaches. Each type associates with other symptoms such as muscle tension, nausea or facial pressure. Clinical studies indicate that acupuncture is effective in reducing symptoms of chronic headaches. Methods of diagnosis of traditional Chinese medicine are very different from those of Western medicine. According to Chinese medicine theory, a single disease is divided into different patterns. As a result, diagnosis of headache takes into account several aspects of a person’s health conditions, including sleep, digestion and emotional tendencies such as anger and stress. Information about all of these symptoms can help acupuncturists differentiate which pattern it falls into. In this way, the patients will experience healing in many areas of their health conditions, including resolution of the headache problem.
  • Back pain: The main causes of back pain include tears in muscles caused by sudden force, overstretching ligaments in the back, and herniated disks causing pressure on nerves and irritation of nerves in the spine. According to clinical practice guidelines issued by the American Pain Society and the American College of Physicians in 2007, acupuncture is a therapy that physicians should consider for patients with chronic back pain. Acupuncture can relax muscles to slow spasms, decrease swelling and local inflammation by increasing local blood circulation, stimulate the release of natural endorphins that diminish the pain response. Therefore, acupuncture is effective in treating both acute and chronic back pain.
  • Postoperative dental pain: Research has identified acupuncture as a promising treatment method for dental pain, especially pain following tooth extraction. A 1999 study of 39 dental surgery patients found that acupuncture was effective in preventing postoperative pain.

Acupuncture has also been found to be effective in a variety of other pain conditions, including arm and shoulder pain, tennis elbow, carpal tunnel syndrome, temporomandibular joint (jaw) dysfunction, fibromyalgia and menstrual cramps.

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