Acupuncture Provides Effective Rapid Relief from Acute and Chronic Pain
Pain affects more people than diabetes, heart disease, and cancer combined. Nearly 8 million people in Canada live with chronic pain (does not include acute cases). That means approx 20% of the population. To put this into perspective, approx 2000 people on Salt Spring Island live with some type of chronic pain.
The International Association for the Study of Pain defines pain as “an unpleasant sensory and emotional experience associated with, or resembling that associated with, actual or potential tissue damage”. For most people, pain is temporary and serves as a warning that something is wrong, that something has caused or may cause damage to some part of our body. This is acute pain, which usually resolves as we heal. When pain persists for longer than 3 months, it is defined as chronic.
Biological, psychological, spiritual, environmental, and social factors influence our experience of pain. Chronic pain, like other chronic diseases, is best understood within a biopsychosocial framework, and its treatment should integrate pharmacological, physical, psychological, spiritual, self-management, and other approaches, as appropriate.
Physicians know that conventional options to manage pain leave much to be desired and that more evidence-based treatment options are needed. Patients also understand this, and turn to complementary therapies for pain more than for any other diagnosis.
As a Doctor of Traditional Chinese Medicine and acupuncturist since 2004, I have treated a lot of people with pain. For the purposes of this post I will exclude mental-emotional & spiritual pain, but that said, it is certain that physical pain affects mental-emotional-spiritual life, and issues with mental-emotional-spiritual life can also be the causes of much chronic physical pain. Therefore, treatment with me rarely is simply superficial, as the ‘whole’ must be addressed for the greatest treatment effect.
Yes, I would immediately administer acupuncture to any patient coming to me with pain, as the evidence is clear with approx 1600 research articles published over the past 10 years on the positive effects of acupuncture for relieving pain through the regulation of nerve pain transmission, release of natural pain relieving neurochemicals, and increasing blood circulation to regulate inflammation.
But my investigations and treatment possibilities go much deeper, and specific treatment plans would be developed for each person.
When required, electro-acupuncture, infrared light/heat, Chinese herbal medicine, cupping, and magnet therapies are all options we have to explore in the clinic setting. As mentioned, digging into mental-emotional-spiritual disharmony may also be warranted.
What is acupuncture & how does it work?
Acupuncture is a 2000-year-old Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) treatment. It is a time-tested, safe, all-natural, drug-free and effective treatment for pain of all types. It involves the insertion of small stainless steel needles in specific areas of the body to relieve pain and promote healing.
Needles are inserted into specific locations based on a combination of the following:
According to TCM diagnosis & meridian theory
These include adjacent and distal points, away from the injured area to address the underlying cause and release referred pain.
Directly into the painful area (Ashi or trigger points)
This helps reduce pain by relaxing the tense muscles involved in the pain/injury, bringing it back to its normal state. These points will often generate a strong twitch or muscle release when stimulated with the needle.
Note: Physiotherapy IMS (intramuscular stimulation) is a derivative of this technique. Also often effective, but its administration is typically more aggressive and does not include traditional meridian theory points.
Mechanisms of Acupuncture
Sensory nerves bring information about pain, heat, cold and other senses to the spinal cord. However, there are nerve fibers that send signals faster than others. For example, if you hit your elbow, the sensory nerve fibers will send a pain signal to your peripheral nervous system, but rubbing your elbow will provide relief. That is because the activated nerve fibers from rubbing the elbow are “faster” than the signals activated by the pain. Acupuncture triggers these faster signals thus overriding the pain signal.
Acupuncture and electro-acupuncture are used in different frequencies to produce simultaneous release of different opioid peptides, such as b-endorphins, for analgesic and therapeutic longer lasting pain-relieving effects.
Improving blood circulation
Needle insertion creates a minor therapeutic injury to the area which creates improved circulation in the injured area. Inflammatory chemicals produced by the original injury are then ‘cleaned-up’ by the increased blood circulation from the acupuncture, facilitating a reduction in redness, swelling, and pain.
Cupping is an additional treatment that is sometimes added to acupuncture treatment sessions. It involves a suction technique to surface areas of the body to expel stagnant blood of the injured muscle, optimize blood circulation, and stimulate healing.
Tui Na Bodywork
Tui Na is a hands on massage/manipulative branch of TCM. When appropriate, this may also be included during an acupuncture session to further support the actions of the acupuncture with nervous system messaging, endorphin release, and blood circulation.
Chinese Herbal Medicine
Finally, Chinese herbal medicine may also be recommended to aid in expediting healing of damaged or inflamed tissues between treatments. Administration may be oral (powder, pills, tincture), or topical (tincture, salves, poultice), and formulation will be customized depending on individual needs.
Common Pain Conditions Treated By Acupuncture & TCM
Headaches / Migraines
- Sciatica, SI Joint Pain, Low back pain, Piriformis syndrome, Osteoarthritis, Facet Joint Inflammation, herniated discs, vertebral degeneration
Neck / Shoulder Pain
- Frozen Shoulder
- Carpal Tunnel Syndrome
- Tennis Elbow
- Golfer’s Elbow
- Painful periods
- Acute Sprain / Strain
- Motor Vehicle
- IT Band
If you have pain from a motor vehicle accident (MVA), ICBC covers Acupuncture treatment costs. If you or someone you know has been injured in an MVA covered by ICBC on or after April 1, 2019, you/they are automatically pre-authorized (regardless of fault) for up to 12 acupuncture sessions within 12 weeks of the date of the accident.
- No doctor referral required
- No upfront payment required
- All you need is your ICBC claim number