Chapter 7 : Acupuncture – the great pain reliever…

Acupuncture is an ancient Chinese art that had been practiced for thousands of years, one that has been proven on many occasions to be extremely effective for promoting general good health but also for relieving pain of many different types and descriptions.

The first thing to understand about acupuncture is that it is adopts a holistic view of any medical or even psychological problems that you might be suffering, including physical pain.

In essence, whereas a Western doctor will treat the symptoms of that pain by prescribing a drug that attacks only the area where the pain is felt, an acupuncturist adopts the view that the ‘something’ that has caused your pain is not necessarily located in that particular part of the body. Consequently, they will try to find the root cause of that pain wherever that may be located in your body before dealing with it.

Acupuncture is based on the concept that every human being contains a ‘vital energy’ flow that courses around their body and that pains, illnesses or sicknesses are signs that this vital energy flow has been disturbed in some way. Vital energy flows along meridians or ‘channels’ that are recognized by acupuncture to connect certain apparently unconnected parts of the body to one another.

Hence, when a problem that represents a disturbance in the vital energy flow appears, it is logical that the acupuncturist will address that problem by attempting open up the appropriate energy meridian so that the flow can be stimulated and the problem solved.

There are certain points along each of these channels or meridians that are recognized by traditional Chinese acupuncturists as being ‘acupupoints’, the places where interruptions most commonly occur. Hence you have the idea that the traditional acupuncturist will insert very fine, long needles through the skin to stimulate these ‘acupoints’ to free up the vital energy flow.

Nowadays, many traditional acupuncturist still continue with the practice of using needles but there are many alternative forms of acupuncture, such as using small, highly targeted electrical charges on the same ‘acupoints’ as a way of stimulating the energy flow. Other practitioners have been known to use magnets whilst there is ongoing study and development of using lasers for the same purposes.

One of the problems with acupuncture is that whilst it has been used for in excess of 2000 years as a treatment for pain and illness, it is still not fully understood why acupuncture works as well as it does. Although even medical doctors accept that acupuncture can be a very highly effective treatment for dealing with pain, we (and they) still don’t really understand why this should be.

However, as reported in this article, two research studies carried out in the mid-90s provided a very clear indication that for whatever reason acupuncture seems to work so well, it does. This is why the same article reported that acupuncture is the favored nonmedical treatment alternative of the majority of medical doctors.

There are many theories put forward as to why acupuncture can be such an effective treatment for pain in apparently unconnected areas of the body. One of these theories suggests that acupuncture points stimulate the central nervous system which then releases chemicals and hormones into the spinal column and muscles.

It is further posited that these chemicals and hormones alter the experience or perception of pain whilst also stimulating the body’s ability to heal itself considerably more quickly than would happen without acupuncture. Hence, the pain relief is more immediate and as the underlying condition is dealt with more quickly, the pain recedes far more swiftly too.

An alternative theory propounded by Western scientists is that there is some evidence that acupuncture points represent the bodies electromagnetic ‘junctions’. Hence, by stimulating the junctions, it frees up the flow of electromagnetic charges throughout the body, which in turn appears to stimulate the flow of natural painkilling chemicals such as endorphins.

Other studies have shown that acupuncture appears to alter the chemistry of the brain by prompting the release of neurotransmitters and neuro-hormones. In addition, because it also appears as if acupuncture stimulates subtle changes in your central nervous system’s ability to deal with pain, there does seem to be some evidence for why acupuncture seems to be such an effective treatment for pain.

One of the beauties of acupuncture as a natural pain treatment is that unlike massage (as an example), it can be used to treat pain of any type and in any area of the body due to the fact that it is an entirely holistic (whole body) approach to pain management. Whereas as a method of pain relief, massage is very firmly focused on getting rid of muscle pain, acupuncture can be used to address any kind of pain, anywhere in your body.

This is one of the reasons why acupuncture is becoming increasingly widely accepted by the ‘traditional’ Western medical fraternity who are nowadays increasingly likely to recommend a combination of analgesic painkillers and acupuncture in many situations where pain needs to be dealt with.

For example, this approach is becoming increasingly common for people who suffer post-operative pain. By providing a combination of analgesic painkillers and acupuncture, many doctors have found that they are able to completely rid post-operative patients of pain in a way that analgesics on their own have never been capable of doing at safe dosage levels.

Unlike many natural techniques for bringing relief from pain, acupuncture can be used to deal with almost any kind of pain, a fact which is often unreported or ignored.

For example, many women report that acupuncture can be highly effective for inducing labor and that many of the pains and stresses of suffering through pregnancy can also be significantly relieved by acupuncture.

Some women suffer back pains or sciatica whilst pregnant because of the additional weight being carried which acupuncture can significantly reduce. Many women also suffer morning sickness and whilst acupuncture will not necessarily get rid of it, it can provide significant help in reducing the nausea levels that most women feel at this time.

It will do this by putting pressure on the Pericardium 6 acupuncture point which is inside the wrist. A strategy that has been proven time and again to reduce all forms of nausea, including that associated with morning sickness.

Incidentally, as an alternative to acupuncture, you might want to consider using a commercially produced acupressure band to put pressure on the same acupuncture point as a way of reducing the nausea of morning sickness.

In the last trimester, many women suffer pelvic girdle pain and according to Swedish studies, acupuncture can help relive these pains too.

The beauty of using acupuncture to reduce the severity of the various aches and pains associated with pregnancy is that by doing so, you reduce or remove the necessity to taking drugs. For some women who are drug intolerant, this is a necessity but even if you do not fall into this category, it obviously makes sense to reduce your reliance on drugs whilst you’re carrying baby and during the birth process.

Another area of pain relief that can be dealt with highly effectively and efficiently with acupuncture is the relief of pain for cancer patients. Because cancer is not one disease (there are over 300 different malignant cancers) and also because chemotherapy treats all of the different forms of cancer in a different way, it is not possible to say that acupuncture is going to be helpful in every case.

Nevertheless, in terms of helping cancer patients get over their pain or the dreaded nausea that is a very common side effect of undergoing chemotherapy, acupuncture can once again be an invaluable additional ‘tool’ in the pain management toolbox.

As this article concludes by answering the question which it attributes to many cancer patients ‘Can acupuncture help me?’, it is likely that acupuncture can ‘in all probability help in the care of the cancer patient’.

Whilst it is fair to suggest that we still don’t really understand why acupuncture is so effective as a treatment for pain, the overwhelming evidence collected over thousands of years from medical experts all over the world is that acupuncture represent a superbly effective way of dealing with pain, almost irrespective of why or how that pain occurs.

If therefore you suffer pain – especially chronic pain that is unlikely to be dealt with by something that provides more temporary relief such as massage – acupuncture is certainly an option that you should consider.

Whether acupuncture on its own can provide complete pain management or whether you need to use analgesic pharmaceuticals in combination with this particular form of natural treatment, if you can use acupuncture to reduce your pain, the level of analgesics you need will be similarly reduced.

Sometimes it is a fact that however we might prefer to use natural treatments to deal with pain, it is impractical to do so from time to time, particularly where pain is particularly extreme. In this case, painkilling drugs may well be necessary but if they can be combined with a natural solution like acupuncture to reduce the amount of drugs necessary, this helps to reduce the toxicity and therefore the potential adverse side-effects that you might be risking by taking these drugs.

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