If anyone lives in pain, it can change his life in many ways. Pain can alter one’s ability to enjoy life, inhibit physical activity, can wither away relationships, and can change personalities.
Since painkilling drugs have so many inherent drawbacks, acupuncture treatment is now being widely sought after by people living with day-to-day pain for the resolution of their problem. More and more conventional medicine physicians are recommending acupuncture when their patients’ prognosis falls beyond the limits of conventional medical care. Right now, there are three procedures that Western medicine uses to deal with pain: physical therapy, drugs and surgery. These are quite potent options and doctors will recommend them when the need arises. However, it is often prudent to begin by using the most minimal invasive modalities saving the maximally invasive procedures as the last means of treatment. Being a minimally invasive procedure, acupuncture ought then to be a first line of treatment for pain and discomfort. However, the opposite often happens which is, to exhaust first all forms of conventional therapies, including surgery, and if none of them work only then will acupuncture be considered as a viable treatment. Knowing to what extent and at what point acupuncture should be used is usually based on the cause of the pain.
In order to understand how acupuncture is a very effective treatment for the banishment of pain, a short discussion of pain from the perspective of traditional Chinese medicine needs to be done. According to traditional Chinese medicine (TCM), the function of the body depends on how life energy or Qi flows in the body. Much like the circulatory system, Qi flows through vessels of energy throughout the body called meridians. The cure or relief of pain depends on the unobstructed flow of Qi through the meridians.
The approach of acupuncture therapy for the resolution of pain is pretty straightforward. If a meridian becomes blocked and Qi flow stagnates, the treatment focuses in the clearing of the blockage and the restoration of the normal flow of Qi. Diagnostically, the root cause of the pain is the blockage of Qi. There are different types of pain and these include dull pains, stabbing sharp pains and roving pains to mention just a few. Some other determinant factors for the cause of the pain include its duration and location as well the role of cold and heat factors that bring about or exacerbate the pain.
The success of acupuncture treatment for the resolution of pain is not only determined by knowing the cause of the blockage but also in properly evaluating the specifics of its underlying causes. This is where the acupuncturist determines whether acupuncture can be used to complement conventional therapies. Pain can be divided into two categories: pain with an identified physiological cause and pain with no discernable physiological cause.
Through diagnostic tools such as a sonogram, CT scan, MRI, x-ray, etc., we can determine the cause of one’s pain. This falls under the first category of pain and what is often at issue here is a development of some form of physiological abnormality (slipped or degenerated discs, bone spurs, nodules, tumors, or arthritis), trauma or a physical injury. Through the aforementioned diagnostic tools, we can determine a prognosis and therefore the right treatment approach (es). It’s typical that the more stubborn the cause of the pain is, the more temporal the effect of acupuncture will be. This means that if the underlying cause is permanent, acupuncture will be unable to reverse the issue. This is true, more or less, in the case of bony spurs or degenerative arthritis. With regular and faithful acupuncture treatments, the relief of pain can be quite significant and impressive though. For people who have pain that has a permanent cause, the acupuncture treatment of pain may be indefinite. If the alternative (conventional modes of treatment) are not to one’s liking or unacceptable, sufferers may find acupuncture a sensible option. There are occasions when people can’t find satisfactory treatment with physical therapy, can’t find true pain relief from their medications or can’t undergo surgery. There may also be events when the best solution is physical therapy or surgery. In the case of the latter, acupuncture ideally functions as an adjunct modality to quicken the healing time, eliminating or minimizing the need for medications and relieving post-operative pain.
Pain from a physiological cause can be due to a side effect of drugs, usually prescription drugs. Statins such as Crestor and Lipitor have been attributed to muscular and nerve pains. TCM’s recommendation for the treatment of these types of pain is to stop taking the drugs.
Now we tackle the issue of pain emanating from an unknown cause. This type of pain obviously comes with no diagnosis and one that stomps most western medical practitioners. One such condition is fibromyalgia which some of its sufferers describe as excruciating pain oftentimes affecting every part of their body. From the standpoint of Western medicine, a fibromyalgia diagnosis lacks meaning since there is no cause that can be attributed to it and so no course of treatment can be designed to combat this condition. Temporary relief of symptoms is the only way conventional medicine can provide for sufferers of fibromyalgia.
The symptoms of fibromylagia can be taken care of with acupuncture and in a much more effective way and to state, frankly, this treatment should be considered as a frontline therapy for this disease. The pain is real and felt but no cause can be determined for it. Conditions that can be included in this second category of pain include enduring pain from statins, even after these drugs are filtered out of the bloodstream, PMS breast pain, joint-pain that is non-arthritic in nature, menstrual pain, certain types of headaches, migraines, injury or postoperative pain long after the tissue in question has completely healed, and other kinds of pain that are impossible to diagnose. When a pain that is difficult to diagnose strikes a person, the acupuncturist or TCM practitioner will observe if Qi flow is stagnant and where the blockage is located. Usually the TCM for pain is a longstanding energy blockage due to past surgeries or injuries; imbalances in the organ systems that cause Qi to forcefully rise to the head without completing its circulation downward (leading to a headache), bottled up physical or emotional trauma especially with victims of sexual or child abuse, exposure to radiation and/or heat, or past exposure to severe cold (including a surgery room. All these are indications of disruptions in the normal circulation of Qi.
Being a holistic form of medicine, acupuncture is often successful in treating pain that is beyond the power of Western medicine to resolve. People who suffer either from acute or chronic pain should consider it as a frontline treatment for their condition.
Galina Semyonova is a licensed acupuncturist and massage therapist in New York City. She has studied extensively in the fields of biofeedback therapy, SCENAR therapy, Chinese herbal treatments and Chinese and Western nutrition.