How Acupuncture Relieves Pain
Updated: Nov 30, 2020
Acupuncture is a treatment that many people have heard of, but not all have used. This procedure, performed by trained practitioners, treats pain and has other mental and physical health benefits. Acupuncture has a rich history. The first written account of the use of acupuncture dates back to 100 BC. Acupuncture originated in China but has spread to all corners of the globe.
Every practitioner of acupuncture has a slightly different style but will generally conduct a brief interview with the patient before treatment. The practitioner may ask about current areas of pain, current illnesses, and may check vital signs. The first evaluation and treatment can take about an hour, while subsequent treatments take about 30 minutes. Most treatment plans include six to ten treatments over a few weeks. The patient may undergo one or two procedures each week.
There are varying acupuncture points throughout the body. The practitioner will focus on the points related to the areas of pain, but these may not be in the same location. Like getting a massage or visiting the doctor, the acupuncturist will ask some clothing to be removed and will provide a sheet or gown. A padded table is provided for the patient to lie on. Five to twenty needles are used during treatment, and the practitioner may manipulate the needles during the procedure as needed.
One type of manipulation is twirling of the needle. The needles are left in place for ten to twenty minutes as the patient relaxes. The needles are then removed - there is usually no pain or discomfort during removal. Symptoms that the treatment is addressing dissipate within a few treatments in most cases.
Acupuncture is often used to combat headaches, arthritis pain, neck and back pain. Many people who suffer from these types of pain find relief in acupuncture when traditional medicine fails or in conjunction with traditional treatment plans. Acupuncture can be an excellent alternative to using opioid drugs and other medical treatments.
During the 5000+ years of practice of the acupuncture discipline, insertion into known acupuncture points has shown to have an influence on the pain receptors resulting in a cascade effect for the brain releasing beta-endorphins, which are the body’s own pain relievers. Once released, these chemicals relieve pain for a while. Another theory is that the procedure changes the cells in the connective tissues and results in less pain. The traditional theory was that stimulating certain body areas releases an energy flow, known as qi or chi.
What Acupuncture Does and How It Affects the Body
Acupuncture is performed using hair-thin needles that are inserted in areas of the body where there is pain. Sometimes the needles are heated, or they can have a gentle electric current applied. Many patients feel relaxed or energized after the treatment.
Traditionally, practitioners of acupuncture feel that the qi must be balanced within the body and that this energy flows through pathways in the body known as meridians. When the energy flow becomes unbalanced, the procedure re-balances the flow. For those who practice acupuncture in the West, the tiny needles used in the process stimulate connective tissues, muscles, and nerves, resulting in a flood of the body’s own painkillers.
Acupuncture offers a great way to treat pain in a variety of areas. Those undergoing chemotherapy may find that acupuncture helps relieve nausea and vomiting associated with cancer treatment. The procedure can also treat everything from dental pain, menstrual cramps, to everyday lower back pain and joint pain. Those who suffer from migraine pain and tension headaches can find that acupuncture works wonders.
Many sufferers go through a gamut of painkillers and preventative drugs only to find that they do not work well. Some people want to avoid becoming dependent on the medication or avoid long-term drug use. In cases like this, acupuncture offers a great alternative.
Several studies performed on human subjects have proven that acupuncture is highly effective. Acupuncture has even been shown to decrease a migraine headache duration. (Zhao, Chen, Li, 2017)
How Effective Is Acupuncture? Why Does It Work?
For years, acupuncture therapy was considered questionable, and the FDA did not consider acupuncture needles to be medical devices until the mid-1990s. Acupuncture was first used in the United States in the early 1970s, and it has come a long way since then. In addition to the traditional Chinese-type acupuncture in which small needles are used, other forms of acupuncture have been introduced. These include both Japanese and Korean acupuncture styles, plus laser and teishin types, which do not penetrate the skin.
Acupressure and cupping also fall under the realm of acupuncture, and many find relief by utilizing these methods. Acupuncture is associated by many with the natural healing of chiropractic care, which offers alternative health treatments.
Medical professionals and scientists agree that techniques like acupuncture all work by stimulating the body’s self-healing properties. Long before the use of pharmaceuticals, we humans relied on natural medicine for pain relief.
These remedies include herbs and plants, plus the manipulation of the body through massage, exercise, and treatments like acupuncture.
Many doctors and scientists realize the benefits of alternative medical procedures, long relegated to dimly lit backrooms, and rarely spoken about.
Doctors can receive training on acupuncture treatments and other alternatives to Western medicine. Prescription drugs and even over-the-counter painkillers are no longer considered the panacea that they once were. Acupuncture can be effective for those who cannot tolerate pharmaceuticals and those who simply wish to avoid them.
Is Acupuncture Safe?
One of the safe alternatives to opioids and other painkillers is acupuncture. Considering that opioid use and addiction are significant concerns to medical professionals, alternative pain relief that is drug-free can be a better option. Acupuncture is safe when performed by a trained professional. There are few, if any, side effects for most patients. This heavily contrasts with opioid painkillers’ side effects, such as constipation, nausea, and dependency.
Patients seeking an acupuncture practitioner should check their credentials. In the United States, most practitioners must have a master’s degree in acupuncture or traditional Oriental medicine and pass a written and practical exam. Even states that do not require licensing require degrees or proof of an apprenticeship. Practitioners can also earn a doctorate in acupuncture and Oriental medicine. Trained and credentialed acupuncturists will be much less likely to perform procedures in an unsafe manner, such as using dirty needles.
Many people are concerned about pain during the procedure. Most find that there is very little pain involved. There is often no pain in areas of the body where the skin and muscles are thicker, such as the back and stomach. Some sensitive areas, such as the feet and hands, may experience minor pain during the procedure, especially the first time.
However, those undergoing treatment should not feel excessive pain. If so, they must inform the practitioner that they are feeling pain. Adjustments can then be made so that the procedure is comfortable. Acupuncture should relieve pain, not increase it. Most pain that occurs during the process dissipates quickly. Those who undergo ongoing treatment will often feel no pain during the procedure. If the pain does occur, it is usually during the first treatment.
Other Health and Mental Benefits of Acupuncture
Acupuncture is also an effective treatment for a variety of maladies, including anxiety and stress. This treatment is sometimes used by those undergoing fertility treatments, including in vitro. Acupuncture can aid in promoting uterine blood flow and helping the potential mother-to-be relax and relieve the stressful nature of fertility treatments.
The acupuncture health benefits go far beyond simple pain relief. Acupuncture can relieve pain related to digestive and urological issues, such as irritable bowel syndrome and kidney stones. Acupuncture can also help with alcohol dependency, depression, and schizophrenia. The treatment can reduce itching and is useful with some skin diseases like herpes zoster and dermatitis. Other conditions that acupuncture can positively affect include obesity, non-insulin-dependent diabetes, and high blood cholesterol.
Before undergoing any acupuncture treatment, it is vital that the person considering the procedure be informed and find a competent practitioner. Often, word-of-mouth is the best way to locate an acupuncturist. However, finding someone using the internet is a good second-best. One can easily look at the ratings and credentials of a practitioner from the comfort of their home before deciding. Another source could be a primary care physician, many of whom now embrace alternative care as one option for their patients. Some insurance companies now cover the costs of acupuncture treatments.
Overall, acupuncture is a safe, side-effect free method of pain relief and relief of symptoms caused by certain diseases and disorders. It can also offer stress relief and is an excellent alternative to opioid painkillers and other drugs that may cause side effects as debilitating as the condition they’re supposed to treat. There are numerous methods of acupuncture to choose from as well as practitioners with differing specialties. Whether you’re looking to relieve chronic pain or any other issues we’ve mentioned, acupuncture can help.