The successful treatment of pain, especially chronic pain, usually requires a multifaceted approach that addresses the whole person. Acupuncture can be a very important part of this process.
There are many proposed mechanisms for how acupuncture provides pain relief including the release of enkephalins and endorphins which are your body’s own natural pain killers. 'Pain Gate Theory' also proposes that like in the way lanes of traffic on the road can be blocked or re routed, acupuncture can regulate the way pain signals are sent to your brain. For these reasons, acupuncture can be effective in a wide variety of pain problems.
In most cases chronic pain represents a sensory dysfunction in which your body’s own pain regulating mechanisms are no longer working properly. As such, the level of pain being experienced is by no means an accurate indicator of actual tissue damage or degenerative processes. The initial stimulation of pain receptors may however have an initial cause such as injury or muscle contraction, weakness and imbalance. As pain takes hold, the initial cause is often combined with other pain stimulating features such as increased muscle tension. Likewise, it appears that functional changes can take place in the nervous system, disrupting normal physiology and sensory function. The viscous cycle of increasing dysfunction and chronic pain ensues. In such cases, underlying causes need to be addressed through a focus on occupational, lifestyle and nutritional factors. When combined with acupuncture and physical therapy, this can often lead to a resolution of seemingly intractable chronic pain symptoms.
While far less common, in some cases the pain may be caused by a structural problem resulting in direct nerve stimulation. In these cases, referral for further medical investigations may be required however acupuncture and a whole body assessment by a highly experienced practitioner is essential before considering pharmaceutical or surgical interventions.
Back pain is very common and can have a number of underlying causes. These include muscle injury, weakness and imbalance, arthritis, spinal curvature, herniated disc and other diseases of the vertebrate. Referrals for medical imaging such as x rays are often provided when presenting at the GP or chiropractors clinic complaining of lower back pain however the evidence currently suggests that in most cases of non specific back pain, x rays are unnecessary, unproductive and potentially harmful.
Acupuncture can be highly effective in the treatment of back pain including lower back pain. Identification of underlying factors such as muscle weakness or internal health issues is critical in ensuring a correct diagnosis and treatment regime.
The sciatic nerve starts at the base of the spine, runs into the buttock and travels down the back of the leg and into the foot. Sciatica is caused by pressure on the sciatic nerve where the intervertebral nerves emerge from the disc spaces in the spine. Sciatica can also be caused by pressure on the sciatic nerve from the piriformis muscle in the buttock, resulting in what is often referred to as ‘Piriformis Syndrome’.
Sciatica can cause severe stabling pain and is often triggered by certain movements or sitting. It can often be difficult to treat with conventional medicine because pain killers have little effect on nerve pain and do nothing to address the underlying cause.
Acupuncture can relieve sciatic pain by regulating the nervous system response, relieving tight muscles and ligaments which are putting pressure on the sciatic nerve and reducing any inflammation affecting the nerve. Physical therapy can be beneficial in addressing underlying muscle involvement and along with an assessment of occupational and lifestyle factors can assist in resolving the pain and preventing future episodes.
There are a number of problems that can cause pain in the neck. This is largely due to its position, range of motion and weight bearing role in supporting the head. Problems can include injuries (e.g. whip lash), muscle strain, nerve impingement (e.g. herniated discs) and degenerative diseases of the cervical vertebrate. The large neck muscles are frequently overloaded through postural and emotional stress.
Neck pain can be very effectively treated through the use of acupuncture and in chronic cases, through combined treatment with herbal medicine. Attention to any dysfunction in the upper back that can contribute to neck pain is also essential.
The shoulder is a very complex joint and for this reason it can be difficult to treat. Common problems include rotator cuff and AC joint injuries, bursitis, frozen shoulder, arthritis, impingement syndromes, biceps tendinitis, labral tears, dislocations…… the list goes on. Some shoulder injuries and pain problems do however respond remarkably well to acupuncture.
In some severe cases including injuries, the joint may have significant ligament or cartilage damage and surgery may be required. Acupuncture and Chinese medicine can be very beneficial in the pre and post surgery phases for pain relief and to promote healing.
The knee is one of the largest and most complex joints in the body. Acupuncture can be very effective in the treatment of various problems which can affect the knee including osteoarthritis. So much so in fact that even the Royal Australian College of General Practitioners (RACGP) states that acupuncture is categorised as having a ‘satisfactory’ body of evidence in the treatment of knee osteoarthritis. Other problems of the knee such as meniscus tears and ligament injuries are well suited to acupuncture treatment and in many cases can provide an alternative to surgical intervention. Where surgery is required, acupuncture can provide pain relief and speed up post surgery healing and recovery.
There are many different forms of arthritis and they can affect any joint in the body including those in the hands, back, knees, hips and shoulders. Arthritis will often affect more than one joint so while acupuncture can provide much needed pain relief, an integrated approach which addresses the whole body is essential for effective long term management. This can include herbal and nutritional medicine along with exercise and physical therapy.
Arthritis pain can be crippling and greatly affect one’s emotional wellbeing. A whole body medical system is required to achieve an overall reduction of pain and to improve the patient’s vitality and quality of life. Chinese medicine can tend to treat these types of systemic conditions with a great deal of success.