Acupuncture and Chronic Pain

What is Pain?

The International Association for the Study of Pain defines pain as: An unpleasant sensory and emotional experience associated with actual or potential tissue damage or described in terms of such damage.

Acute Pain – results from disease, inflammation, or injury to tissues. It generally comes on suddenly and may be accompanied by anxiety or emotional distress. The cause of acute pain can usually be diagnosed and treated, and the pain is confined to a given period of time and severity. In some rare instances, acute pain can become chronic.

Chronic Pain – widely believed to represent disease itself. It can be made much worse by environmental and psychological factors. Chronic pain persists over a longer period of time than acute pain and is resistant to most standard western medical treatments. Pain management is an integral part of treating chronic pain.

Traditional Chinese Medical Treatment for Pain

Traditional Chinese Medicine views pain as a congestion of Qi (pronounced- Chee, energy) and/or blood in a given area. By inserting extremely thin, sterilized, and disposable needles into the area of pain as well as distal acupoints on the channel (or energetic pathway) the pain is on, local inflammation can be reduced, tight muscles can be released, and proper nerve conduction can flow. All of these factors will greatly reduce pain perception.. Additionally, acupuncture is virtually free of side-effects, safe, and natural.

Acupuncture also causes a release of endorphins into the blood stream. These natural “pain-killers” reduce sensation of pain and increase serotonin levels contributing to the emotional health of the patient dealing with the stress of chronic pain.

In 1997, the National Institutes of Health (U.S.) officially recognized acupuncture as an effective treatment for pain. According to the 1997 NIH panel, clinical studies showed that acupuncture therapy is helpful in treating many types of chronic pain, including headaches, menstrual cramps, tennis elbow, fibromyalgia, myofascial pain, osteoarthritis, neck pain, low back pain and carpal tunnel syndrome.

Western Medical Treatment for Pain:

  • OTC Medications– nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs including aspirin, ibuprofen, naproxen, ketoprofen and acetaminophen. When used long term, these medications can cause gastric irritation and liver damage.
  • Heat/Cold Therapy– hot packs, heat lamps, hot packs or warm baths are used to relax tight muscles. Ice and cold packs numb and relieve pain and swelling in inflamed areas.
  • Prescription Medications– provide stronger pain relief than OTC medications but have a higher risk for addiction. Some have harmful side-effects and all are dangerous when combined with alcohol.
  • Prescription Antidepressants– used with patients who report a decrease in pain with increase in mood. Side effects are common as well as addiction and withdrawal symptoms.
  • Psychological Treatment– psychoanalysis and other forms of psychotherapy, relaxation training, meditation, hypnosis, biofeedback and behavior modification. These treatments empower patients to alter their perceptions of pain without dependence on medication.
  • Local Electrical Stimulation– application of brief pulses of electricity to nerve endings under the skin.This procedure blocks pain messages to the brain and modifies pain perception.
  • Nerve Blocks and Local Anesthetic Injections– a local injection into the area of pain. Can provide a few months of pain relief. Complications and side effects are severe and potentially life-threatening.
  • Surgery– not often used to treat chronic pain. Surgery may provide pain relief, but it also may permanently damage the ability to perceive other sensations, such as light touch and temperature changes. It can also cause a different pain to occur.