Managing Pain with Acupuncture and Chinese Medicine

Pain is something that many of us take for granted. We wake up in the morning with back pain, foot pain or neck pain. We get headaches from stress or as part of menstrual cycles. We suffer from migraines, disc degeneration and osteoarthritis. While from the perspective of conventional medicine pain is often permanent and pre-determined, this is not always true with natural medicine.

The Chinese Medicine perspective on pain is simple and that’s why Acupuncture is known for dealing with pain well. It comes down to this: pain means lack of movement. If the Qi (Energy) and Blood are not moving, you will have pain. All we are doing in Acupuncture is moving the circulation harmoniously to reduce or completely eliminate pain. This is done by placing needles above and below the pain and sometimes in the area with pain. Stimulation of the needles moves the Qi and the circulation, activates the nervous system and, sometimes instantly, pain is reduced. Now, I’m not saying that we are doing magic here. If someone has pain because they broke their arm, they may still experience some pain until that arm has healed. But often pain is not caused by a current problem. The reason Acupuncture reduces pain is that it activates the nervous system and immune system and improves circulation to allow the body to do its job better.

Let me give you an example: Everyone has headaches at one time or another in their lives. I treat at least ten headaches a week. I know one thing for certain: the Qi and Blood in the head and neck is not moving enough. Most simply this entails needling acupuncture points in the back or side of the neck (to release tension from the neck and release Qi from the head) and needles somewhere below (often the shoulder, the back or the feet). Even with seemingly intractable headaches this method often brings instant relief.

With this theoretical framework, you don’t even need to see an Acupuncturist to get pain relief. Since pain is caused by poor movement of Qi and circulation, you know now that exercise (in moderation) and massage (including self-massage) can open up tight muscles and relieve pain as well as its source. Other possibilities: a warm soak for your foot, leg or hand and a warm compress for your back or other painful area can do wonders because warmth also increases that circulation.

So are you taking opiates for chronic pain? Are you taking Triptans or other drugs for migraines? Are you regularly taking ibuprofen or acetaminophen for aches and pains? You should consider Acupuncture. There is no reason for you to be tied to medications when a natural fix is right around the corner.

Don’t believe me? Need some research? Here are a few studies:

Acupuncture relieves pain in cases of osteoarthritis of the knee, better than “sham” acupuncture or standard care.1 2

Both a trial and analysis show that acupuncture can reduce chronic low back pain.3 4

An analysis shows that women receiving acupuncture during labor have less need for conventional pain management.5

82% of patients with cancer related pain obtained benefits, showing the most benefit for vascular problems, muscle spasm and dysaesthesia.6

1 Cao L, Zhang XL, Gao YS, Jiang Y. Needle acupuncture for osteoarthritis of the knee. A systematic review and updated meta-analysis. Saudi Med J. 2012 May;33(5):526-32.

2 Kwon YD, Pittler MH, Ernst E. Acupuncture for peripheral joint osteoarthritis: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Rheumatology (Oxford) 2006;45:1331-7.

3 Manheimer E, White A, Berman B, Forys K, Ernst E. Meta-analysis: acupuncture for low back pain. Ann Intern Med 2005;142:651-63.

4 Cherkin DC, Sherman KJ, Avins AL, et al. A randomized trial comparing acupuncture, simulated acupuncture, and usual care for chronic low back pain. Arch Intern Med 2009;169:858-66.

5 Smith CA, Collins CT, Cyna AM, Crowther CA. Complementary and alternative therapies for pain management in labour. Cochrane Database Syst Rev 2006;(4):CD003521.

6 J. Filshie, D. Redman International Medical Acupuncture Conference, Dept. of Anesthetics, Royal Marsden Hospital, London, England. May 4-8, 1986.