Pain and Acupuncture

One reason for people to seek the services of an acupuncturist is for the treatment of pain.   Up to half of the patients that visit us at the clinic come due to some musculoskeletal pain complaint, namely shoulder/neck pain, back pain, hand/feet pain and headaches. Patients come for 3 to 6 consecutive treatments and find their pain reduced enough for them to do their daily activity unhindered by the pain they originally felt. At which point, patients would only visit the clinic for maintenance sessions either every other week or once a month, occasionally increasing the frequency when needed.

Recent academic studies by the National Institute of Health (NIH)[1] and Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA)[2] as well as popular publications such as the New York Times [3] all report on the benefits of acupuncture in cases of chronic pain. In these articles, and articles like it, scientists describe how acupuncture affects neural and hormonal reactions in the body to mediate pain in the body.

But how does acupuncture work to reduce pain in the Traditional Chinese Medicine sense? Simple: Acupuncture induces movement. In the two and a half millennia that Chinese medicine has been existing in some shape or form, the words ‘Proper Movement is Life’ underpins virtually all of health giving techniques that Chinese medicine has to offer. The fact that pain, and ultimately death, is a result of malignant non-movement (i.e. stagnation) is a core understanding of all Chinese medicine doctors through time.

Qi (‘Chee’) and Blood are two vital substances in the body that promotes health by its orderly movement and it is the stagnation of these substances that cause pain. In some cases, this stagnation can be likened to what western medicine ‘circulation issues’ causing numbness, tingling, cold hand/feet, muscle tension, fatigue and ultimately pain. As Qi and Blood have nourishing and warming effects, Chinese Medicine also puts weakness and non-vitality of the skin and limbs as symptoms of this issue.

Qi and Blood flows in an internal body system called meridians and collaterals. Meridians and collaterals are similar to the western idea of the ‘circulation system’, but far more than just being a passive system of tubes and vessels, the Chinese Medicine concept of meridians and collaterals is more vital and energetic. It is by observing this system that acupuncturists can diagnose disharmonies that occur deep within the body. And, it is also by observing this system that acupuncturists can treat disharmonies by inserting acupuncture needles to affect the body and move Qi and Blood. Meridians and collaterals serve both to diagnose and treat disharmonies in the body.

Ever wonder why an acupuncturist put some needles in your legs for your back pain or needles in your hands for shoulder pain? It is because the needles far from the pain sites are the in same ‘meridian’ or is complementary to the meridian that traverses your area of pain. It is through the documented research and work of philosophers and practitioners since the Han Dynasty (202 B.C to 220 AD) that allows for this deeper level of understanding on where to place needles to achieve benefits. Simply said, acupuncturists, in effect, influence the rate Qi and Blood that flow locally in this system by stimulating the area of pain with needles. And, through the understanding of channel flow and channel relationships, the local insertion of needles are enhanced by needles inserted in specific areas far away from a local area of pain.

Besides acupuncture, Chinese medicine practitioners have different methods to increase Qi and Blood flow in painful areas, such as Tui Na, Gua Sha, and Ba Guan Fa, commonly known as ‘cupping’. These accessory techniques complement acupuncture treatments in order to move Qi and Blood. These accessory techniques use differing characteristic qualities to promote the movement of Qi and Blood. Namely, Tui Na uses bodywork and compression of specific acupuncture points to stimulate the movement of Qi and Blood; Gua Sha uses scraping of the skin and the inherent function of the skin to disperse stagnation; And Cupping uses the suction of cups to dislodge deep seated Qi and Blood stagnation in order for the body to be able to regain Qi and Blood flow naturally.

Pain is a part of the human condition. It is a sign of the progress of time and change. Pain is also a way for your body to indicate disharmonies, which is inevitable in a system as complex the human body. Acupuncture provides a way to mediate pain and reduce its occurrence safely and effectively.

by Michael Jamlang