Acupuncture is best known for its ability to successfully treat pain. 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. But in other situations 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.
The intensity of the pain usually indicates or warns how severe the problem is. Each person has a different pain threshold, but pain levels that increase or do not lessen over time point to something that needs attention.
And the circumstances surrounding the onset of the pain are just as important. Was there an accident or incident? Or did the pain gradually develop over a course of time or during a certain period of life?
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.
How does acupuncture stop pain?
There are many therapies that attempt to stop pain. Most of them mask the pain while hoping the body is able to heal itself or push the body to heal faster while offering limited pain relief. Acupuncture is an extremely powerful and effective approach to treat pain because it decreases pain levels as it stimulates the body's healing response. Acupuncture resolves pain by affecting several pain pathways and healing responses at the same time:
- raise endorphin levels and diminish the nervous system's pain response
- decrease inflammation and swelling
- relax muscles and stop spasms
- increase circulation to the local area
How many treatments will I need?
This varies considerably based on the specific condition being treated. Each person receives an individualized treatment plan based on age, past medical history, lifestyle, treatment goals and current pain status. Generally speaking however, acute pain (less than 3 months 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.
How else will acupuncture help me deal with my pain?
Almost every person finds acupuncture treatments to be very relaxing. Many do not expect this effect, especially dealing with painful conditions, but acupuncture balances various parts of the body together. This results in a person feeling calm, peaceful and very relaxed. Pain is stressful and can wear someone down causing irritability, tension and insomnia. By relaxing the whole person, acupuncture also helps eliminate these other negative aspects of pain. And it does so in a natural way, with no negative side effects.
Acupuncture also looks at the entire person, not just the one part that hurts. This means an acupuncturist will offer suggestions for individual lifestyle improvements regarding exercise, supplements and diet, sleeping and stress management techniques to help a person improve health and decrease pain.
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Arthritis simply means inflammation of the joints. There are two main types of arthritis - osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis. Osteoarthritis is characterised by degeneration of articular cartilage, hypertrophy of bone at the margins and changes in synovial membranes. This is the type of arthritis where the cartilage in joints wears away and leads to pain, weakness and deformities of the joints. That is why osteoarthritis is also known as degenerative arthritis or degenerative joint disease. Rheumatoid arthritis, however, is an inflammatory disease thought to be caused by a mistaken immune system attack on the joints (an autoimmune disorder). It is known more for hot, swollen, painful joints with decreased range of motion.
Both types of arthritis are common problems for many Americans, especially those individuals age 60 or older. Not only does it interfere with daily routines once it sets in, but it progressively worsens as one ages. Unfortunately, arthritis culminates in severe debilitation and joint deformation. The reason arthritis affects so many people to such a severe degree is that there are very few effective treatments for it. For the most part sufferers are given anti-inflammatory drugs. When these do not work, surgery and joint replacement are the next option. Those inflicted with arthritis are offered limited help with symptoms, and very few treatments to stop the diseases' progression.
The Effect of Acupuncture on Arthritis
Acupuncture can increase blood circulation to joints, and thus their absorption of calcium as well as the removal of noxious elements. It can also increase the production of synovial fluid to keep joints better lubricated. In addition it reduces inflammation and swelling as it stops pain. These well documented effects of acupuncture are what allow it to treat both types of arthritis. Acupuncture treatments can therefore eliminate the symptoms of arthritis and slow down the progression of the disease. And it is able to do this without any of the long-term side-effects associated with most anti-inflammatory drugs used for arthritis.>
When considering acupuncture for the treatment of arthritis there are some important considerations to keep in mind. The fastest results will be seen in patients with a relatively short history of either type of arthritis. Those with chronic cases of 10 or more years with arthritis will need 8 to 10 acupuncture treatments to notice a positive change in their condition. The longer a person has arthritis, the longer it may take to eliminate the symptoms. While acupuncture cannot reverse any deformity of the joint that has already occurred, it can slow down and stop further destruction and additional negative symptoms. It is commonly combined with Chinese herbal medicine to strengthen the results. In tandem with herbs, or by itself, acupuncture offers arthritis sufferers a legitimate and effective option to reduce the symptoms that negatively impact their lives and stop the disease's worsening progression.
The main causes of back pain come from strains (tears in muscles caused by sudden force), sprains (overstretching one or more ligaments in the back), herniated disks (a disc that bulges out of its normal place between two vertebrae, putting pressure on nerves) and sciatica (term that describes pain extending from the low back down into the buttocks and leg due to irritation of a larger nerve in the spine). These can happen from injuries, improper lifting, poor posture, weakening of supporting muscles and ligaments and degenerative changes.
How Does Acupuncture help back pain?
Acupuncture is best known for its ability to stop pain in general. It is effective in treating both acute and chronic back pain because it lessens the pain response locally as it relaxes nearby muscles. A negative pain cycle is broken when muscle spasms stop, adjacent muscle groups no longer compensate, range of motion then increases as the pain levels decrease. Acupuncture accomplishes this by:
When to get Acupuncture Acute Back Pain ?In an acute situation, you need to first determine how severe the injury is. If it is serious, or you are unsure, call 112 or go straight to the nearest hospital for proper evaluation. If the acute back pain is not that severe, the sooner you receive acupuncture treatments, the better the results. The reason is simple: it boosts the body's natural healing mechanisms while inhibiting negative pain cycles from ever starting. This enables acupuncture to drastically reduce recovery time and stop injuries from becoming chronic.
Chronic Back Pain
Back pain that continues or lingers more than 3 months becomes chronic. It is important to know why the pain is there. Narrowing of the spine or a tumor pressing on lumbar spinal nerves is a medical emergency. Therefore it is recommended to receive a complete Western medical evaluation and diagnosis, including x-rays and MRIs when necessary. Chronic back pain that has been properly evaluated, and that does not respond to conventional treatments, almost always improves with acupuncture treatments. It does not matter how long the pain has persisted, acupuncture can still provide noticeable positive improvements, if not complete resolution of the back pain. And this is accomplished without the use of any over-the-counter medications or pharmaceuticals.
How Many Treatments Will I need ?
Acupuncture treatments are specifically tailored to each individual depending on age, gender, lifestyle, past medical history and current health status. This guarantees a treatment plan that meets each person's exact needs, but makes it more difficult to generalize overall responses. Even so, it is safe to say that acute back pain is usually successfully treated in 3 to 5 treatments over a 1 to 3 week period. It is more difficult to generalize the length of treatment for chronic back pain because medications, prolonged inactivity, low morale & surgeries complicate treatment. Regardless, a person should notice a positive change in his/her back pain within 8 to 10 treatments over 1 to 3 months. Then an accurate prognosis for complete resolution of the pain can be given.
Can Acupuncture help ?
Several clinical studies have shown acupuncture to be an effective option for treating chronic headaches. In one study published in the March 15th issue of the British Medical Journal researchers randomly divided 401 adults with chronic headaches into 2 groups. One group received standard medical care while the second group received 12 acupuncture treatments over a three month span in addition to standard medical care. One year after treatment those who received acupuncture:
- Experienced 22 fewer days with headaches
- Made 25% fewer visits to their doctor
- Took 15% fewer days off sick from work than the control group
- Used 15% less medication
Local research by Remy Coeytaux, MD (assistant professor of family medicine at the University of North Carolina School of Medicine) demonstrated similar findings. Dr. Coeytaux's study, published in the October 2005 issue of the journal Headache, found that overall those who received acupuncture along with standard medical care were 3.7 times more likely to report less suffering from chronic headaches compared with those who received standard medical treatment alone.
How can Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) and Acupuncture help my headaches?
In TCM there are many different possible causes for headaches. Diagnosis of the headache takes into account several aspects of a person's health including sleep, digestion and emotional tendencies such as anger and stress. Information about all of these symptoms can help the acupuncturist differentiate the overall pattern of disharmony causing the headaches. By treating the individual pattern, instead of the diagnosis of headache, the patient will experience healing in many areas of their health including resolution of the headaches.
What Will the Treatments Be Like and How Many Will I Need?
The first appointment will include a detailed medical history interview as well as an acupuncture treatment. The acupuncture points are tailored to the individual patient's pattern of symptoms. In general when treating headaches, acupuncture needles are inserted in the head and neck but can also be used on the hands, feet, forearms, lower legs and back during each 30-40 minutes visit. The needles are disposable and the diameter of two human hairs. Patients report feeling little or no pain with the needle insertion and usually look forward to the deep sense of relaxation they feel during the treatments. The number of visits you'll need usually depends on the severity of your headaches, although patients should start feeling better after a few treatments. After the first visit, the acupuncturist will develop a treatment plan which outlines how often and how many treatments the patient will need. The results of treatment are thought to be cumulative which means that it is worth it to come initially more frequently. Getting treated twice a week for two weeks will establish a healing trend which then may only need to be maintained by weekly or eventually monthly treatments. If you make the commitment to get treated regularly early on, the acupuncture will have a more significant effect and you will need less treatments in the long term.
Acupuncture and Fibromyalgia
Currently, modern medicine has very few options for the FM patient. NSAID's (non-steroidal anti-inflammatories, such as Tylenol or Advil), muscle relaxants and anti-depressants can be prescribed but they often are minimally effective for FM sufferers and have potential side-effects.
Acupuncture has been determined by the World Health Organization to be effective in the treatment of chronic pain and has listed Fibromyalgia as one of 40 different conditions effectively treated by acupuncture.
Because Chinese medicine works on a system of diagnoses based on your individual signs and symptoms there are several ways to treat Fibromyalgia. Unlike Western medicine, each Fibromyalgia patient is treated differently. This means that one person who suffers from insomnia and depression receives a different treatment than someone with irritable bowel syndrome and anxiety. This is because Chinese medicine has a number of diagnoses by which it can treat Fibromyalgia.
There are several Chinese medical diagnoses under which FM patients fall. These diagnoses are based on specific groups of symptoms (such as the example above). Within each of these diagnoses, treatment is further tailored to focus on the main concern a patient has. This allows acupuncture treatments to treat each case of FM on a very individual and personal level. This focus on individual symptoms is what allows acupuncture to help FM patients where traditional medicine cannot. Each person's needs are specifically addressed.