Pain Management with Acupuncture

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Widely practised today, acupuncture is seen as remedy for severe pain conditions and general well-being.

Cindy Lim, a home-maker in her late 40’s, is a firm follower of acupuncture. She started going for acupuncture treatments when she first experienced chronic pain in her shoulders and legs. That was 20 years ago. Today, she devoutly goes for treatments whenever she encounters aching in her body. “I feel that acupuncture relieves me of my pain and I feel more relaxed after each treatment,” Lim stresses.

Pain is a feeling of physical suffering triggered in the nervous system. It can be chronic due to a condition, injury, or illness and it can vary in intensity; it can also be an “all over” sensation causing the entire body to ache in pain. To alleviate the pain, many people consume painkillers, dose on medication, or engage in physical therapy such as physiotherapy or practise alternative treatments like acupuncture, a form of traditional Chinese medicine (TCM).

For Lam K.S, a civil servant in his mid thirties, acupuncture, however, may not be the most ideal remedy for his chronic back pain, a condition caused by degenerative disc disease. “I don’t feel any difference after the first acupuncture session and thus did not attend another round… I suspect that acupuncture can only alleviate the pain but will not treat my medical condition. Hence, I would prefer alternatives of pain relief,” Lam says, adding that he’s keen to explore alternative forms of therapy such as Chiropractic treatments.

Although success may vary among individuals, acupuncture, according to studies conducted, can be used for treating various neurological, muscular, digestive, and respiratory conditions such as headache or migraine, lower back pain, neck pain, menstrual pain, constipation, diarrhoea, gastritis, asthma, insomnia, depression, and anxiety among others. And reports have shown that many chronic pain sufferers have used acupuncture mostly for their conditions and ailments ranging from back pain, joint pain to neck pain and migraine.

What is acupuncture and how does it work?
Acupuncture is among the oldest healing practices in the world, one that originated in China and then Asia for thousands of years. It involves the insertion of hair-thin needles, at various depths, through the skin at certain acupuncture points into the body. Our body consists of an essential life energy called “qi”; this qi flows through our body along channels or meridians.

When the qi is blocked, illness or pain occurs. When the acupuncturist inserts the needles along the various acupuncture points or channels/ meridians, he releases the blockage enabling the qi to flow smoothly, enabling and restoring health once again. Acupuncture treatments are thus helpful in aiding the body’s internal organs to correct their imbalances of the energy and help in their circulation throughout the channels.

Some scientific studies have indeed showed that the acupuncture practice of inserting needles into acupuncture points has resulted in the release of endorphins – our body’s natural pain-killers – and other pain-relieving chemicals into the body, helping the body to heal and recuperate faster. Although doctors are still studying the efficacy of acupuncture for a wide range of medical conditions, acupuncture is increasingly being considered as an alternative or combined treatment or as part of rehabilitative therapy for a lot of ailments. The use of acupuncture, for example, to treat nausea and pain after patients underwent surgeries, has also become more widespread among Western doctors.

How is acupuncture administered?
An initial visit will usually comprise an exam and assessment of the patient’s health conditions, lifestyle, and medical history. After reviewing the medical conditions, the patient will be asked to lie down in various positions where the needles will be administered. The acupuncturist would then use sterile, hair-thin, and disposable needles to insert into the patient’s skin. When the needle is inserted, there’s usually no pain until the acupuncturist reaches a depth where an aching pain (in some instances) is experienced. The needle will remain there for about 20 minutes and the acupuncturist will proceed to insert another needle on another part of the skin. This will go on until the area is being treated.

The pain, according, to some patients, varies. Some people experience minimal or no pain, and some others, mild soreness and discomfort. It has also been reported that some patients feel an increase in energy levels while others experience a deep sense of relaxation. Depending on the ailment being treated, the acupuncture treatment can take place over a few weeks or several months.
After the first or second treatment, the patient might experience mild disorientation or some appetite or bowel changes among other symptoms. These conditions are reported to be normal and indicate the workings of the acupuncture treatment. Usually the patient is advised to rest a little more and these symptoms will pass in no time.

The risks of acupuncture involved are few but can include infections if unsterilised needles are used, bleeding and bruising of skin, and in some extreme, rare cases, organ ruptures from a broken needle or from a too-deep insertion. Thus, always consult an experienced, reputable acupuncturist for a peace of mind. Generally, acupuncture is considered to be a relatively safe procedure with few side effects and is ideal for patients who prefer not to ingest pain medications or who have prior drug allergies.

Today, acupuncture is being practised widely in Asia, the US, and Europe, as a treatment by itself, or in combination with other conventional Western techniques for a wide range of ailments. On its own, it’s a part of the TCM, which also comprises other elements like Chinese herbology – usage of plants and herbs for medicinal purposes –, and special exercises or meditative practices such as Tai Chi and Qi Gong. Acupuncture is a method perceived by many to stimulate the body’s natural healing abilities and to promote a physical and emotional sense of well-being – a great natural way to combat the stress and health problems we may experience in our daily lives.

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