With the recent controversy over the safety of the cox-2 inhibiting prescription pain medications Vioxx and Celebrex and most recently, the over the counter medication Naproxin (Aleve), people are beginning to ask themselves which is worse – living with the pain or living with the risk of cardiovascular problems as a side effect of the drugs?
For many, there may be another option. The World Health Organization (WHO) recognizes acupuncture’s ability to treat over 43 common disorders including arthritis, back, neck and shoulder pain, neuralgia and migraines. Independent research studies have also shown acupuncture to be effective in treating sciatica, carpal tunnel syndrome, plantar fasciitis, trigeminal neuralgia, TMJ and post surgical pain. Although acupuncture has only been practiced in this country for three decades, it has been an integral part of Chinese medicine for over three thousand years. Today acupuncture remains a completely safe and effective alternative to pharmaceutical medication for both acute and chronic pain.
The theory behind acupuncture’s ability to treat pain and disease is based on an energetic model of the human body. Vital energy, or Qi (pronounced “chee”) flows through the body on specific pathways called meridians. Each pathway is associated with an internal organ. Pain or disease occurs in the body when there is a deficiency or an imbalance of the energy in the meridians. Acupuncture points are specific locations along the meridians. Over the centuries, it has been documented that the insertion of very fine needles at a given point has a very predictable effect on the energy that passes through that point, restoring balance in the meridian. Modern science has been able to measure the electrical charge at these points, confirming the location of the meridians that were mapped out in ancient times. Continued research has shown that acupuncture has the ability to increase circulation, reduce inflammation and trigger the release of endorphins and enkalphins – the body’s own opiate-like chemicals to control pain.
For most of us, the idea of having needles inserted into our body can be quite intimidating, conjuring up memories of vaccines and intravenous needles. But acupuncture needles are very fine and flexible, about the diameter of a human hair. Not at all like the larger diameter hollow needles that we are accustomed to. Most practitioners in this country use needles that are pre-sterilized and disposable so that there is minimal risk of infection or cross contamination. In most cases, the insertion of these needles is painless – inducing a sense of heaviness, warmth or tingling in the area of insertion when the needle contacts the Qi. Most patients find the experience very relaxing and often fall asleep during the treatment.
The number of treatments required to treat a particular ailment varies greatly and depends on a number of factors. In general, acute pain responds more quickly to acupuncture than chronic pain. Often one or two treatments may be all that is needed to resolve the pain of an acute injury or flare up of a chronic problem. In any case, a skilled practitioner will ask for a complete medical history and conduct a thorough interview with the patient. All bodily functions including digestion, elimination, quality of sleep and even emotional state are assessed to arrive at a pattern of disharmony. Traditional Chinese medicine recognizes the fact that pain and disease in the body can be due to poor diet, environmental factors and long-term stress or significant emotional events in one’s life. Lifestyle changes may be recommended to speed healing. An individualized treatment plan will seek to address not only the symptom of pain, but also address the underlying cause. Quite often, as patients complete a series of acupuncture treatments, not only is the pain eliminated, but sleep, digestion and over-all energy improves.