Acute and chronic pain syndromes have an enormous impact on individual, national, and global levels. In the United States, chronic pain is the third most common health-care problem, behind heart disease and cancer, with the combined annual costs of lost work days, doctor visits, hospital stays, pain-reducing drugs, and disability totaling an estimated $100 billion.
Pain itself is not a diagnosis, but rather an indication or warning that there is a problem somewhere in the body. Many times the exact location of pain points to where the problem is, as in the case of elbow pain above an inflamed tendon. The site of pain may be related to problems far away, as in leg pain resulting from a herniated disk pushing on a nerve in the back. Sometimes, pain can be a manifestation of emotional or psychological problems which cannot be found with X-rays, MRI's, and lab tests.
The characteristics of pain give important information about what is causing the body to send this signal. Once noticed, it is important to address the underlying problem that forced the body to send a pain message, not just turn down the discomfort. Otherwise the body will send out other warning signals until the core problem is corrected.
To date, Conventional medicine has not had a great deal of success in providing substantial pain relief solutions. The most popular form of treatment is through pain medication and anti-inflammatory drugs. Unfortunately, these options are masking the pain only rather than addressing the main cause of pain. They not only have the potential to become addictive but also often produce side effects more troublesome than the condition itself, such as liver damage, weakening of the bones, ligaments, and cartilages.
Acupuncture is a holistic method of encouraging the body to promote its own natural healing and to improve overall functioning. The modern scientific explanation is that needling the acupuncture points stimulates the body to produce natural steroids and release endorphins. Steroids decrease inflammation, while endorphins inhibit pain. These substances are 50 to 100 times more potent in relieving pain than many prescription drugs, and play an integral part in the elimination of the pain cycle.
- Mechanism of pain in TCM
- Pain management with TCM
- Conditions treated
According to Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), the proper functioning of human body depends on Qi, the vital energy of the body. The Qi and blood flow through the meridian system, nourishing and protecting body tissues and helping them maintain their functions.
If the body is beset with disease or injury, normal pathological symptoms will appear and affect the organs and meridian. Once the meridian is blocked, the Qi and blood are not able to move along smoothly. As a result, the affected area will not be able to get enough nutrition. In response, the patient feels pain, stiffness, tingling, or numbness. Hence the old TCM saying,
"If there is a blockage, there is pain. If there is no blockage, there is no pain."
The meridian system is like a network. Each meridian is connected with a specific internal organ. The organ damage may show up from the meridian, and the local blockage of the meridian can affect the internal organ as well. That is why in TCM, when treating a pain condition, the acupuncturist will not usually only focus on just the local pain, but also (sometimes more importantly) work to balance and harmonize the whole body.
Meridian blockage can be caused by external reasons such as excessive cold, wind, dampness, dryness, fire (heat) or traumatic injury. It also can be caused by emotional change such as anger, sadness, fear, stress, depression, as well as an internal organ deficiency or malfunction.
Figuring out what exactly is the cause of the pain and which meridian is blocked is extremely important in treating pain. Generally speaking, TCM treats pain by relieving blood and Qi stagnation, increasing circulation, nourishing the tissue, building up deficient organs, and balancing and harmonizing the whole body system. Acupuncture can be used to correct the flow of Qi; Herbal medicine can be used to re-establish and balance Qi, blood and moisture in organ networks, in order to avert pathological factors.
At NOLA Acupuncture Wellness center, Pain management with TCM focuses on enhancing the overall function of the body's natural coordination systems to eliminate pain and suffering as soon as possible. We also emphasize to educate our patients on how to maintain, and exceed their optimal health expectations, as well as improve wellness and quality of life through our healing process.
Upon your first visit, your acupuncturist will review your case history; gain a thorough understanding of your goals; and examine your whole system. Once your acupuncturist gets idea on the underlying causes or problems that have not yet shown up as a symptom, and/or subtle signs of imbalance that indicate future illness, each patient will receives an individualized treatment plan based on age, past medical history, lifestyle, treatment goals and current pain status.
Treatment usually includes a combination of acupuncture, electrical stimulation, moxibustion (applying heat to the skin), cupping (applying suction to the skin), massage, and Chinese herbal medicine. TCM also looks at the entire person, not just the one part that hurts. Your acupuncturist will also give suggestions for individual lifestyle improvements regarding exercise, supplements and diet, sleeping and stress management techniques to help you improve health and decrease pain.
Generally speaking however, acute pain (less than 3 weeks duration) is often resolved in a short series of treatments spaced close together and chronic pain requires consistent regular treatment to achieve long-term pain relief.
- Adjunctive Therapies
- Chinese Herbal Medicine
- Egoscue Method
Acupuncture is best known for its ability to successfully treat pain. Acupuncture is a safe, painless alternative, and a very effective procedure for eliminating or relieving pain. Acupuncture works to balance our system of internal meridians or pathways. These meridians are the highways through which Qi flows. Proper flow of Qi helps circulation of the blood through the meridians and tissues.
Researchers have discovered beneficial immune and endocrine alterations following acupuncture treatment. Acupuncture may actually help prevent pain by acting on the sympathetic nervous system and by stimulating the body to produce biochemical substances, such as endorphins, to help reduce pain. Acupuncture can also greatly enhance the effect of other therapies, as well as reducing unwanted side effects from conventional medicine.
The benefits of using acupuncture for pain include:
- Stimulates the body's natural healing
- Quickly reduces pain and inflammation, and relaxes muscle
- Increase the circulation to speed up recovery time
- Enhanes the endocrine and immune function
- Maintains longer positive results and prevents recurrence
- Reduces pain without the prolonged use of drugs and surgical intervention
- Promotes physical and emotional well being
- Fully integrates with other therapies
- Cost effective
Tui Na, a body work therapy, is a complete system of body alignment based on TCM. It involves brushing, kneading, rolling/pressing and rubbing the areas between each of the joints to relax the patient as well as to correct physical issues. Tui Na aims to release tension, increase blood flow, stimulate the release of toxins and encourage muscle repair in the affected area.
Cupping is one of the oldest TCM treatment modality involves the use of glass or plastic cups to create a vacuum seal on the skin. This technique is used to increase circulation to the underlying tissues, disperse swellings, release muscle tension, reduce fever and activate the lymphatic system. Cupping can leave bruise-like marks that may last for a few days after the treatment.
Gua Sha is a healing technique that involves scraping (gua) across the skin with an instrument in order to bring up raised, red marks (sha). Gua Sha improves Qi and blood circulation, opens the skin pores to release the exterior mimicking sweating, and moves fluids containing metabolic waste that has been congested the surface tissues and muscles. It is often used for pain, aching, tenderness and/or tightness of the muscles associated with acute or chronic disorders. Like cupping, Gua Sha can leave bruise-like marks which may last for a few days after the treatment.
Moxibustion involves burning moxa, a dried herb derived from mugwort leaves, on or near the skin to facilitate healing. Moxibustion is effective at increasing blood flow to areas of injury and warm areas where cold accumulates. This treatment is often used to treat a variety of ailments, including muscle aches and pains as well as menstrual cramps.
Traditional Chinese medicine speeds up the healing process by invigorating the flow of blood and Qi to the affected area. Chinese herbs are often added to acupuncture treatments to enhance the effect of acupuncture and correct the underlying imbalances.
Chinese herbs for pain treatment are often used as formulas. According to the patient's condition, 4 to 12 different herbs (sometimes up to 20 herbs) are used as a group in order to enhance the healing power of individual herbs. Some herbs have analgesic properties; some herbs regulate the flow of Qi and blood; and some herbs nourish the body. When the herbs are used together, they can enhance the effects of each other, or in some cases, decrease the harsh properties of certain herbs.
Herbal medicine can be used internally as well as externally. If used internally, they are typically taken in the form of tea, capsules or concentrated powder. If used externally, herbs are often used in tinctures, plasters or creams.
Egoscue method involves a series of stretches that are uniquely designed for a particular dysfunctional postural alignment pattern. It focuses on establishing better postural alignment, not only during standing, but for sitting and functioning as a whole. The Egoscue method is not a hand-on therapy; instead, it is a self-adjusting therapy.
At NOLA Acupuncture Wellness Center, our practitioners will teach easy and gentle stretching with some quick muscle isolation appropriate for individual patients' conditions. With 15-20 minutes of self stretching and strengthening exercises every day, you can have better posture, better mobility, better balance and dramatically decreased body aches and pain.
Acupuncture is best known for its ability to successfully treat pain. Acupuncture plays an important role in the elimination of pain, and gives us a valuable alternative choice for the treatment of acute and chronic pain conditions. According to the extensive review of the scientific evidence for acupuncture by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) in 1997, there is clear evidence in support of acupuncture's efficacy for acute and chronic conditions that benefit from the control of pain and inflammation, enhanced circulation, endocrine and immune function and the reduction of stress. The panel found a number of conditions for which acupuncture is extremely useful as an adjunct or alternative therapy.
Pain Conditions Successfully Treated by Acupuncture and Chinese Medicine
- Arthritis, Osteoarthritis / Joint pain
- Back pain
- Carpal tunnel syndrome and Wrist pain
- Elbow pain, Golfer's elbow, Tennis elbow
- Headaches and Migraines
- Heel pain, Bone spur, Plantar fasciitis
- Knee pain
- Malignant pain
- Menstrual cramps
- Muscle spasms
- Myofascial pain
- Postoperative pain
- Sciatica, hip pain, leg pain
- Shoulder pain and Frozen shoulder
- Sports / Work / Auto Injuries
- Sprains, Strains, Bursitis, Tendonitis
- Stiff neck and whiplash