Acupuncture and pain control


In spite of the strong evidence that many healthcare disorders, especially pain, respond positively to acupuncture treatments, many people with chronic pain syndromes often turn to acupuncture as a last resort. It has been researched that acupuncture increases the body’s natural production of hormones (including serotonin and endorphins) that help the body respond to stress and injury. The side effects are few, and mostly positive. Acupuncture has been shown to stimulate the immune system by increasing T-cell count, help promote sleep, increase stamina and energy, decrease inflammation and relieve chronic musculoskeletal pain and tension. It also has affects upon circulation, blood pressure, rhythm and stroke volume of the heart, secretion of gastric acid and production of red and white cells.

The World Health Organization (WHO) recognizes the ability of acupuncture to address many common disorders including arthritis, shoulder, neck and back pain and injuries, anxiety, stress, insomnia, menopausal symptoms, headaches and migraines, asthma allergies and immune disorders. While acupuncture may not cure some diseases, it is a safe and cost-effective treatment that easily integrates with Western medical treatments. And, in many cases, patients are able to reduce their intake of medications.

The practice of acupuncture can be looked upon as a procedure that nourishes and enhances the body’s natural healing mechanisms. Ancient Chinese texts describe channels of energy called meridians that flow throughout the body in regular patterns, a system similar to the circulatory or nervous system. Acupuncture involves the insertion of fine, sterile, disposable needles into particular points along these channels to control the flow of Qi (pronounced chee), or vital life energy. Disease results from an imbalance or blockage in the flow of Qi. Any disharmony of Qi affects the spiritual, emotional, mental and physical aspects of the body. In Western terms, acupuncture points are areas of designated electrical sensitivity that when stimulated transmit impulses to the hypothalamus-pituitary glands, the glands responsible for releasing neurotransmitters and endorphins – our body’s natural pain killing mechanisms. Serotonin release plays a role in human disposition, thus the use of acupuncture for depression.

A modern style of acupuncture, “Acupuncture Physiatrics”, blends traditional Chinese acupuncture, Japanese acupuncture and musculoskeletal approaches to impact pain and other healthcare disorders. Acupuncture is used in the sense of a “physical therapy” to release the muscular and emotional holding patterns that originate secondary to visceral disease (IBS, Cardiac problems) or are the primary causes ofÊphysical tension and/or pain. Muscular guarding and tension are produced over a long period of time in the chronic pain patient. Oftentimes, these patients have no awareness of these holding patterns.

This method of acupuncture is easily integrated into the hospital multi-disciplinary teamwork approach, both for acute care and out-patient rehab. It can help minimize the formation of post surgical scar tissue, promote faster recovery from pain and numbness (especially post orthopaedic and joint replacement surgery), reduce the surface manifestations of pain in visceral problems, alleviate constipation that results from post surgical meds and generally promotes a sense of well-being and relaxation.

In one case, a young female, aged 24, was co-treated in a multidisciplinary approach, for tempomandibular joint dysfunction (TMJD), resultant from an automobile accident. She had received Botox¨ injections and was on pain medication as well as a sleeping pill. She was in university studying art and had to withdraw for a year. Her physician prescribed acupuncture, which helped release the tight jaw and neck muscles, improved her sleep and made it possible to reduce her medication intake. With Acupuncture Physiatrics as part of her prescribed healthcare, she was able to return to school. In 6 months time she was off all medications and only required the occasional follow-up maintenance treatment.

Acupuncture can also be used to help improve the quality of life issues for those undergoing cancer therapies. Its does this by reducing pain, helping control chemotherapy-related nausea and vomiting and helping with depression.

Whether for palliative care, or as an integrative part of a patient’s treatment plan, acupuncture should not be overlooked as a treatment option. In Ontario, acupuncture is not regulated. It is wise to make sure the practitioner of choice has a minimum of at least 1,000 hours of training. Practitioners in the United States are governed as members of the NCCAOM (National Commission for the Certification of Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine) and some member practitioners are from Canada. You can find them by checking on website. For more information about Acupuncture Physiatrics, please check