Pain management is an area for which acupuncture can provide enormous benefit. It has developed a reputation for offering a safe and effective option in the treatment of acute and chronic pain, hence it’s growing use in acupuncture clinics and NHS pain clinics across the country. Acupuncture offers a gentle, elegant and precise way of reducing inflammatory responses within the body whilst at the same time promoting the healing process.
How does acupuncture work?
There are several mechanisms explaining the effectiveness of acupuncture, including it’s ability to:
- release opiates, such as endorphins, to minimise pain
- increase blood flow to the local area, catalyzing the healing process
- stimulate the release of of immune factors, which acts on local inflammation
- relax ‘stuck’ muscle fibres to release muscular tightness and spasm
What can acupuncture help?
Acupuncture can be used for acute, chronic and reoccuring pain. Acute pain might be mild and last just a moment, or it might be severe and last for weeks or months. In most cases, acute pain does not last longer than six months, and it disappears when the underlying cause of pain has been treated or has healed. Acute, chronic and reoccuring painful conditions that are commonly treated with acupuncture include:
- low back pain (see article that I wrote about the treatment of back pain below)*
- shoulder and neck pain
Please click on the conditions above for more detailed information about how acupuncture can help, or if you would like to find out more about chronic pain and acupuncture then please visit the British Acupuncture Council website.
What to expect during treatment?
Following a consultation, an examination of the area causing pain will be given to determine which acupuncture points will be needled. Then fine needles will be inserted into areas of tightness or congestion and left in for 20 minutes. Usually a course of 6 weekly treatments is recommended initially for chronic pain conditions, thereafter a review takes places where it is decided, based upon the outcome of treatment so far, whether it would be timely to reduce the frequency of treatments to maintain the effects of the initial course or continue a little while longer on a weekly basis.
How will acupuncture help me to manage the pain
For chronic auto-immune conditions, such as rheumatoid arthritis, acupuncture can help to reduce the frequency and intensity of the pain and improve mobility. Although you wouldn’t expect acupuncture to be able to completely resolve the problem, it can nonetheless be beneficial in helping with the managment of the pain, physically and emotionally. Many people say that their experience of the pain changes, not only due to acupuncture’s ability to reduce the intensity and frequency of the pain, but also due to it’s wonderful ability to reduce anxiety and tension and improve energy, so that people feel they are better able to cope generally.
In my experience, aches and pains that are less chronic in nature or due to muscular tightness or spasm, such as neck, shoulder, lower back, hip pain, or sciatica can often be resolved or significantly improved within a course of six treatments through a combination of acupuncture and acupressure massage. Some conditions, such as Frozen Shoulder respond really well to heat, and in those cases moxa (which is a wonderful herb that has special warming qualities) or heat lamp will also be used to warm the area.
Reoccuring pain is usually addressed with an initial course of treatment and then followed by maintenance treatment on a monthly or 6-weekly basis.
In general, the aim of acupuncture when used in the management of pain, regardless of the presenting condition, is to either completely relieve pain, or provide as much pain relief as possible; improve the ability to deal with pain; lessen local tissue inflammation; improve mobility and quality of life; reduce anxiety and tension and improve energy.
For more information about how acupuncure might help you please contact me on 07583-291616 or visit the British Acupuncture Council website.
*Here is an article that I wrote about back pain for the British Acupuncture Council's 'Back' to Health Campaign:
Did you know that Acupuncture can help you ‘Back’ to Health?
As a leading cause of disability, lower back pain is one of the most commonly treated musculoskeletal problems that I see in practice.
As a way of coping with the condition people often use painkillers to relieve discomfort. Although a useful short-term solution, as a longer-term option they can often mask the problem rather than addressing the underlying cause of the back pain.
With traditional acupuncture we look at the root of the condition, as well as the symptoms, in order to relieve pain, improve mobility and promote longer-term health and well-being. Acupuncture can be beneficial for both acute and chronic pain, although most people will seek acupuncture when the pain has become more chronic. Many people are unaware of just how effective it can be in bringing relief to acute or recent back strains at a time when they may be struggling with intense pain and varying degrees of immobility... it is for these reasons that people are often unable to get to a clinic for treatment. However, this is a time when acupuncture can work it's wonders! There are some highly useful acupuncture points, which are well known for there ability to be able to reduce pain and inflammation, that effectively target areas of the back that are in spasm. Many of these points are located distally (in the hands, lower legs or feet) so there is no need to needle into any painful or inflamed areas during the acute phase of an injury. It’s often patients that are able to get help coming into clinic not long after an injury, who will experience the most profound response from acupuncture and subsequent improvement of mobility and reduction of pain.
I saw a patient last year who came into clinic barely able to walk due to an acute strain in his lower back caused by lifting something heavy. I needled distal points in his hands and ankles before doing some gentle massage to ease the spasm in his back. After treatment he said that he was in considerably less discomfort and although still walking a little gingerly, it was clear that he had more freedom of movement and was able to stand straighter.
Treatment itself involves a consultation (although this would be kept to a minimum if the patient was in pain) and examination followed by the placing of very fine sterile needles at specific points on the body, and possibly massage, to elicit a healing response. Often the number of treatments required for acute back pain will be fewer than for chronic back pain. This is because chronic back pain can become entrenched or locked in: areas of tightness/constriction are likely to be reinforced, or other areas tighten due to over-compensation, when treatment to bring about muscular release has not been given.
It's so important to get gently moving again after a muscular injury, as sitting/lying for long periods often make the stiffness worse. Of course if you have spinal or structural changes to the back, such as a slipped disc, then your doctor, chiropractor or osteopath may advise you to rest. But for pain of muscular origin, I would recommend gentle stretches to improve movement and mobility and ease tightness.
The British Acupuncture Council suggest 10 Ways that Traditional Acupuncture can help with Lower Back Pain
1) Talk about it
“Don’t live with pain, have it treated! If you’re not happy with your current situation or diagnosis get another opinion. I will be happy to discuss your problem and help you understand whether acupuncture can help you, before you commit to having any treatment.”
2) Tailored for you
“Traditional acupuncture is an effective therapy that treats the whole person. This means each patient is treated as a unique individual so the acupuncture points chosen for one person with lower back pain may be different for another person with the same symptoms. This bespoke style is one of the key reasons traditional acupuncture is so effective as it’s not a one-size fits all approach.”
3) Pinpoint pain
“Contrary to popular belief, traditional acupuncture is an incredibly relaxing experience. Some people of course will be naturally wary of the needles but they’re sterile and the same width as a human hair so they’re extremely fine!
4) Natural pain relief
“By stimulating nerves located in muscles and other tissues, traditional acupuncture helps release “happy” hormones including endorphins and oxytocin, which are the body’s own natural pain-relieving hormones. These hormones can change the way the body processes pain, helping to reduce discomfort and distress.” This can replace the need for synthetic drugs, without the risk of side effects.
5) Reduces inflammation
“Traditional acupuncture has also been shown to reduce inflammation and swelling by stimulating blood flow to the affected area and dispersing excess fluids to promote healing and aid recovery.”
6) Get moving again!
“Many patients find that even after one session of traditional acupuncture their movement and mobility will be improved and their muscles don’t feel as stiff. The number of sessions needed will depend on each individual and whether their pain is chronic or not. I will put together an individualised treatment plan during your initial consultation.”
7) Minimise medication
“Many back pain sufferers are sick and tired of being continuously on medication (understandably!). Traditional acupuncture can potentially reduce the need for the long-term use of medications without the side effects often attributed to some pharmaceutical drugs.”
8) Better outlook
“The holistic approach of traditional acupuncture means that the whole person is treated, both body and mind. These two are often linked, especially when there is chronic pain. Once a patient has started to feel the benefit of treatment, the therapy can often restore a feeling of hope and positivity.”
“Finally, if you’re reliant on your painkilling tablets you’ll be pleased to hear traditional acupuncture works just as effectively alongside modern medication. In fact it can even speed up the recovery process. Be sure to consult with your GP before undertaking numerous treatment plans. “
Acupuncture has been demonstrated to have clinically meaningful improvements in pain reduction, improvement in quality of life and function.