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One of the most common reasons people seek out Acupuncture therapy is for pain relief. Acupuncture can be effective for almost any type of pain including pain from acute injuries such as ankle sprains or post-operatively. It can also be effective for chronic pain like back pain, neck pain, knee pain, shoulder pain, plantar fasciitis and migraines.
In 2012, a study found acupuncture was better than no acupuncture or simulated acupuncture for the treatment of four chronic pain conditions:
Back and neck pain.
Osteoarthritis (your doctor may call it “degenerative joint disease” or “wear and tear arthritis)
These studies have provided incontrovertible scientific evidence that acupuncture is more successful than placebo treatments in certain conditions. For example, the proportion of chronic pain relieved by acupuncture is generally in the range 55– 85%, which compares favorably with that of potent drugs (morphine helps in 70% of cases) and far outweighs the placebo effect (30–35%). Acupuncture treatment is safe if it is performed properly by a well-trained practitioner. Unlike many drugs, it is non-toxic, and adverse reactions are minimal. This is probably one of the chief reasons why acupuncture is so popular in the treatment of chronic pain in many countries.
The FDA is submitting rule changes for doctors to learn about acupuncture for pain management rather than opioid prescriptions. In an recent study, seventy-eight people die each day from opioid overdose and another 20.8 million have a substance use disorder. However, only 10% of those 20.8 million receive treatment.
Overdoses kill more people than car accidents do!
Approximately 50,000 people died from an alcohol, opioid or other drug overdose in 2014, compared with 32,744 who died from car accidents that year. And the number of people currently struggling with a substance use disorder is more than the number of people suffering from any kind of cancer.
The approach to treating addiction can’t be different than treating any other chronic illness, Murthy writes in a preface to his report.
“We must help everyone see that addiction is not a character flaw — it is a chronic illness that we must approach with the same skill and compassion with which we approach heart disease, diabetes, and cancer.”
Headaches & Migraines
Both western medicine and Traditional Chinese Medicine recognize two categories of headaches: primary and secondary. A primary headache is a clinical condition, not a symptom of another disorder. Primary headaches include tension headaches, migraines, and cluster headaches. Secondary headaches are caused by other medical conditions such as sinus disease, allergies, dental disorders, head injury, or brain tumors. Acupuncture is used to effectively treat primary headaches, namely tension and migraine, which are the most common.
Types of Headaches
There are a variety of different types of headaches, both primary and secondary. These include the following:
Tension headaches, which occasionally affect most people, are the most common type of headache. They are recurrent headaches and can last anywhere from minutes to days. These headaches are experienced as dull pressure, mild or moderate in severity.
Migraine headaches are usually one-sided, pulsating or throbbing, and moderate or severe in intensity. They can be worsened with activity and may be associated with nausea and/or vomiting, as well as sensitivity to light or noise. Some patients also experience auras, a neurological symptom that develops gradually over 5-20 minutes. The patient may see brief flashes or waves of light or changes in their vision. Other common features of auras include vertigo, imbalance, confusion, and numbness.
Headaches occurring every day or almost every day are referred to as chronic daily headaches or rebound headaches. Sometimes they resemble tension headaches, and at other times, migraines. The overuse of pain medications can result in aggravating headache patterns.
Some headaches may be signs of a serious medical condition. These include headaches after trauma, headaches in the elderly, or headaches with any of the following symptoms:
Vomiting without nausea
Extreme neck pain
Acupuncture for Migraine Relief
Acupuncture involves the insertion of fine needles into specific points on the body, followed by gentle manual or electrical stimulation of the needles. Emotional stress is a well-known trigger for migraines. Increased muscle tension in the neck and upper back is common in people with migraines; therefore reducing this tension is an integral part of preventing migraines. A low-frequency electrical current (1 Hz) may be added to the needles in order to further enhance blood flow in the muscle tissue.
We also recommend some important lifestyle changes to reduce the incidence of headaches:
Sleep adequately (7-8 hours per day)
Avoid physical or mental fatigue
Avoid alcohol (especially red wine)
Eliminate foods that trigger migraines: dairy, chocolate, spices, wheat, and corn
Avoid any triggers that cause your headaches
Acupuncture for Back Pain
Nearly 8 out of every 10 people will have low back pain at some point in life. Back pain is one of the top reasons people seek medical treatment. It is also the No. 1 reported reason for seeking acupuncture. The good news is chronic low back pain is one of the conditions that research suggests acupuncture may be an effective tool for treating.
Guidelines from the American Pain Society and American College of Physicians say doctors should consider acupuncture as an alternative therapy for patients with chronic low-back pain.
Common Cause of Back Pain
Lumbar muscle strains and sprains are the most common causes of low back pain. Many “weekend warriors” experience injuries and pain from trying to tackle large home projects, such as painting the exterior of their home or doing their own landscaping.
The low back is susceptible to strain because of its weight-bearing function and connection in movements, such as twisting and bending. Muscle strain is caused when muscle fibers are over-stretched or torn. Inflammation is common at the site of injury, usually accompanied by pain with movement. Muscle cramping or spasms can occur, as well as decreased function and/or range of motion.
Acupuncture should not be a “last resort” treatment option.
Acupuncture has been an integral part of Chinese Medicine for over 4,000 years, although the benefits were slowly discovered in the Western world. Today, as people are becoming more aware of alternative treatments—and seeking pain relief options that do not include medication—acupuncture seems to have jumped to the top of many people’s radar. Still, I find it interesting when people who have suffered from a certain condition long-term consider acupuncture a “last resort” option.
While over-the-counter or prescription pain medications may offer some relief, the relief is temporary and does not treat the underlying issue(s) or cause of the pain. Medication may mask the pain to the point that a person continues to do a certain activity that may worsen their physical situation.
Acupuncture is holistic and can be a great alternative pain treatment.
Acupuncture, how it works and its effectiveness in treating back pain and other causes of body pain have been studied rather extensively by researchers in China, the United States, and other countries. Acupuncture unblocks and moves the body’s energy (called Qi [chee]) through the body’s functional systems—such as the nervous, respiratory, circulatory, muscular, and digestive systems.
According to the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health (NCCIH), “results from a number of studies suggest that acupuncture may help ease chronic low-back pain, neck pain, and osteoarthritis/knee pain. It also may help reduce the frequency of tension headaches and prevent migraine headaches.”
A group of researchers in China recently published their results from a study of 751 patients with low back pain. The study was carefully performed measuring each patient’s pain level and functional ability before and after acupuncture treatment. The researchers concluded that acupuncture may have “a favorable effect on self-report pain and functional limitations in LBP [low back pain] patients.”
How Acupuncture Works
The modern scientific explanation is needling the acupuncture points stimulate the nervous system to release chemicals in the muscles, spinal cord, and brain, including endorphins, encephalin (a type of endorphin), and other neurochemicals. These natural chemicals may either change the pain experience or trigger the release of other chemicals and hormones that influence the body’s own internal regulating system. This can bring about a normalizing effect on neuroendocrine (nerve and hormone) function. The improved energy and biochemical balance produced by acupuncture results in stimulating the body’s natural healing abilities, and in promoting physical and emotional well-being.
Pain relief is a common reason why patients seek acupuncture therapy.
Most patients in my practice come to see me for pain relief. Neck and back pain are the most common conditions. Since acupuncture is usually sought out last after more conventional medicine has not achieved the desired result, many of my patients are surprised at how effective it this centuries-old method can be. It’s a very rewarding experience to see my patients able to either be pain-free or living with less pain!
Acupuncture is thought to operate by:
Release of opioid peptides. Opioids are naturally occurring chemicals in the brain that have an analgesic effect. The release of these opioids plays a significant role in the reduction of pain. There has been considerable evidence to support that acupuncture stimulates the central nervous system, releasing these chemicals.
Alteration in the secretion of neurotransmitters and neurohormones. Acupuncture is said to activate the hypothalamus and pituitary gland and thereby alter the secretion of these chemicals. These particular chemicals play a direct role in the sensation of pain as well as the activity of an organ or organs. Evidence has shown that acupuncture alters this secretion in a manner that reduces pain. Documentation has also shown that acupuncture positively affects immune functions in the body.
Stimulation of electromagnetic points on the body. The 2,000 points of the body that acupuncture focuses on are theorized to be strategic conductors of electromagnetic signals. Stimulation of these areas is believed to start the flow of endorphins—the body’s natural painkillers.
Acupuncture for Joint Pain
Everyone gets the occasional ache or pain — a little soreness in the shoulder, a twinge in the knee — but research shows that women are more frequently and often more severely affected than men. The CDC estimates that from arthritis or chronic joint symptoms affect more than 70 million Americans, 41 million of whom are women. A number of factors contribute to this disparity: Women are more apt than men to have conditions that cause joint pain, experience hormone fluctuations that affect their vulnerability, and may not be physiologically equipped to deal with pain.
Causes of Joint Pain in Women
Of the nearly 27 million Americans with osteoarthritis (AO), 60 percent are women. Rheumatoid arthritis (RA), an autoimmune disease, strikes approximately three times more women than men. Other autoimmune conditions that cause joint pain, such as lupus, scleroderma, and multiple sclerosis (MS), also hit women harder than men: Women are nine times more likely to develop lupus, three times more likely to have scleroderma, and twice as likely to suffer from MS. And fibromyalgia, a little understood condition that can cause joint pain, affects women eight times more frequently than men.
The Estrogen-Joint Pain Connection
“Women typically feel pain more intensively, more often, and in more parts of the body than men,” says Tarvez Tucker, MD, a pain specialist and director of the Pain Clinic at the University of Kentucky Medical Center, in Lexington. Female hormones are believed to play a role in women’s high vulnerability to pain. Many women with OA, RA, lupus, and fibromyalgia report an increase in joint pain just before or during their periods.
This is likely because estrogen levels plummet right before menstruation and rise again after a woman’s period is over. “Estrogen is believed to be protective against pain,” says Dr. Tucker. “It peaks during pregnancy, probably to protect women from the pain of childbirth.” Some research shows that 80 percent of women with RA experience a remission of symptoms during pregnancy and a flare-up when estrogen dips during the postpartum period. Additionally, reproductive hormones are suspected as factors in the high incidence of autoimmune diseases in women since conditions such as RA and lupus are most common during the childbearing years.
Women’s Bodies and Joint Pain
Hormones are only part of the picture, however. Female brains may be wired for pain. It’s thought that endorphins, the body’s natural painkillers, work more effectively in men than in women. “Studies have found that females release less of the brain chemical dopamine in response to painful stimulation. Without dopamine, endorphins can’t function effectively,” says Patrick Wood, MD, a pain researcher at Louisiana State University, in Shreveport, and medical advisor to the National Fibromyalgia Association.
Female structural differences may contribute to some kinds of joint pain, too. For example, women are more prone to osteoarthritis of the knee. One possible explanation: “Women tend to be more limber and loose-jointed than men, so there’s more movement in that area, increasing the risk that the kneecap will rub on the bones below it,” notes Bruce Solitar, MD, a rheumatologist at the NYU Hospital for Joint Diseases, in New York City. This may lead to osteoarthritis symptoms in the knee area.
How does acupuncture relieve joint and arthritis pain?
Pain is a primary complaint of people who suffer from arthritis, so acupuncture is worth considering because it relieves pain in three ways.1. It works through the nervous system by blocking the transmission of pain signals to the brain.
Brian Berman, MD, director of the University of Maryland Center for Integrative Medicine writes, on the “Arthritis Today” website:
“A well-placed needle insertion sets off a cascade of events, producing a signal that travels along the spinal cord to the brain, triggering a release of neurotransmitters called endorphins which scientists believe reduce the sensation of pain.”
Acupuncture deactivates trigger points. Trigger points are tender areas that develop in the muscles and joints. They are often responsible for chronic pain and are frequently found around arthritic joints.
Acupuncture helps your body and mind relax. Since stress is a major contributor to illness and can intensify pain, helping your mind and body relax can promote healing
Does acupuncture help other symptoms of arthritis?
With rheumatoid arthritis, you have inflammation around the joints, such as swelling, redness, and heat. Acupuncture stimulates the adrenal glands to produce natural steroids, which have an anti-inflammatory effect.
With osteoarthritis, (OA) the most common form of arthritis, cartilage in the joints gradually wears away, and research shows that acupuncture is extremely effective at controlling the pain that often accompanies this deterioration.
A study of 570 people with osteoarthritis of the knee found that those who received acupuncture had a significant decrease in pain compared with those who received fake acupuncture or standard care. That study was published in the Dec. 21 “Annals of Internal Medicine” and reported in USA Today in 2008.
What Are the Advantages of Acupuncture?
It’s a drug-free way to ease pain. You can’t get addicted to it. And the acupuncturist can immediately see how you respond and make any changes as needed.
Does the Medical Establishment Approve of Acupuncture?
Yes. There are about 28,000 licensed acupuncturists in the U.S. Also, the World Health Organization recognizes about 30 medical problems, ranging from allergies to pain, that can be helped by acupuncture treatment. The FDA also sees acupuncture needles as medical devices.