When it comes to managing, reducing and eliminating chronic pain, acupuncture is a very practical and effective place to start. There are a wide variety of painful conditions that have been treated and relieved by acupuncture for many years. The most common types of pain include migraines and other types of headaches, neck pain, back pain, shoulder pain, tennis or golfers elbow, knee problems, and even dental related pain. Arthritis and post-operative discomfort have also been eased with the help of acupuncture.
The National Institute of Health published a review of 2 randomize trials conducted in 2008 and 2009 measuring the effects of acupuncture on migraine headaches. The 2008 review highlighted a few well-designed clinical trials who’s findings indicated that acupuncture reduces and sometimes eliminates the symptoms of migraines and is as effective as headache medications. In addition, a 2009 review found that acupuncture could also relieve tension headaches and was equal to conventional care. Acupuncture treatment for headache relief is a relaxing and simple solution which can also help prevent future onsets by treating the source of the condition causing them.
Because so many people in our country suffer from chronic low back pain, extensive studies have been designed to understand the effects of acupuncture as a therapy for this problem. It is perhaps one of the most common reasons people finally arrive in the acupuncture office.
A large, rigorously designed clinical trial published by the N.I.H. in May of 2009, found that actual acupuncture was more effective than conventional treatments for relieving chronic low back pain. There was also sufficient evidence to show that acupuncture is also effective in the treatment of acute low back pain. According to “Clinical Procedure Guidelines” issued by the American Pain Society, “Acupuncture is one of several C.A.M. therapies physicians should consider for patients who do not respond to conventional treatments.”
In most cases, a course of 3-5 treatments will give relief to the sufferer of low back pain. Often people will walk out after their first visit and notice improvement in how they feel. It is important to know that because of the depth and length of time the injury has pursued, continuing with a recommended course of treatment is necessary in order to get the optimal, long-lasting results desired. After each treatment there is a deeper level of recovery. Because of the cumulative effect of acupuncture, the patient should feel better with each visit while continuing to follow the instructions of the acupuncture physician treating them. These could include; resting for a few hours or the rest of the day after treatment, specific movements or exercises to keep the back moving and strengthened, and possibly taking prescribed herbs that will help relieve the pain.
Acupuncture works by relaxing the muscles and tendons, reducing inflammation of the soft tissue, and nourishing the ligaments of the many joints and limbs of our bodies. When needles are inserted in areas specifically chosen for each injury, an avalanche of healing responses are activated. Neurotransmitters in the brain are contacted and endorphins are released to manage the pain and calm the nerves. Blood cells rush to the injured area to deliver extra nutrients to help it recover, and the entire body and mind begin to relax as its natural serotonin increases. Relaxation allows the body and mind to function more smoothly and efficiently.
An acupuncture physician will most often diagnose a chronic injury as a “cold, fixed – or stagnant condition.” The way we would explain our strategy of treatment is by “warming and invigorating the blood” and nourishing the “qi” (pronounced chee,) the body’s innate energy. Because of the original trauma there is inflammation which slows the blood flow in the injured area. As time goes on and there is still damage in that area, it becomes even more inflamed and obstructive creating a “coldness” in comparison to the rest of the blood flow in the body. Coldness equals pain. The slowness of the blood flowing through the injured area means that the nutrients are not arriving at a sufficient speed to repair it. Not getting the nutrients and energy as needed results in further injury to the joint or limb and increased pain.
By using the acupuncture needles to reduce the inflammation around the injured area and warming the surrounding coldness, the blood is able to begin flowing more smoothly. When this happens, nutrients and energy arrive in more abundance assisting in recovery and strength. The degenerative cycle will begin to reverse itself to a regenerative cycle. These are the first steps toward pain relief and recovery from a long term, painful condition.
In addition to needles, the acupuncture physician may use a variety of methods to accomplish the desired outcome. Some of these include; “cupping,” “moxibustion,” “electric stimulation,” and “tui na.” All of these techniques are pleasant, feel comforting and are exceptionally relaxing.
A great number of people have found pain relief through the use of acupuncture. The benefits are abundant and the most common side effects are usually deep relaxation and a good night’s sleep.
This post was written for Leona Harter, L.Ac., LMT by Karen Danish, LAP. Karen is a licensed Tampa acupuncture physician and a valued staff member at Anne Hermann MD, PA.