Acupuncture’s efficacy at treating pain is one of the big reasons that it is becoming more mainstream in the Western world. New studies have come out in the last couple of years that show acupuncture can be just as effective as opioids in treating pain, but with little to no side effects.
How We Treat Pain
So, how does it work? Here is a basic rundown of what you need to know about seeking acupuncture for pain relief.
There are often immediate results. Depending on the cause, pain relief will often begin within moments of beginning your first treatment, but may require ongoing treatment to correct the underlying cause. In more severe cases, sometimes a few treatments will be required before results are noticeable.
How frequently should you receive treatment? Generally the effects of acupuncture are cumulative, the more treatment you get, the better the results and the longer it lasts. Usually we will ask to see our patients 1 - 2 times a week to start with and will continually reassess to find the best treatment frequency for you.
We won’t always treat directly at the site of the pain. We have found that very often the most profound results come from treating away from the location of the pain. For example you might be needled in the hand or foot to treat neck or back pain. In some circumstances we will treat the site of pain directly.
We focus on getting to the root of the pain. Acupuncture doesn’t just treat the symptom of pain like taking a painkiller. We are actually addressing and correcting the root cause. Through the course of treatment, the ultimate goal is that you will be pain-free without the need for further treatment.
What causes your pain?
Treating pain in Chinese Medicine isn’t as simple as sticking a pin where it hurts; it involves diagnosing the cause of the pain, the energy pathway the pain is located on, what helps the pain or makes it worse, and also what the type of pain (achey, sharp, etc) is. Does the pain move, or is it fixed? Is the pain better or worse with heat or cold? What about with movement? Is the pain worse at different times of the year, or in different weather? Was the pain caused by a physical trauma, or did it slowly develop over time? These are all questions your acupuncturist might ask to try and find out the best way to treat your pain.
While keeping in mind that every person has a unique situation and that there is no one appearance or manifestation of pain, here are some clues that might help you get to the bottom of your own pain. Please make sure to check in with a doctor or other health professional if you are experiencing pain.
What is the nature of the pain?
Sharp: Sharp pain is generally an indication of pain caused by local stagnation, often due to a previous injury to the area. This type of pain is usually excess in nature.
Achey: Quite often this pain is caused by chronic stagnation; stagnation built up over time and not necessarily from an injury (but could also be the result of an older injury), but more often from a slower cause like poor posture or repetitive strain. This type of pain is generally deficient in nature.
Stiff/Tight: Stiffness is indicative of stagnation that is accompanied by a lack of circulation to the area and/or a harmful buildup (like calcium deposits or scar tissue) in the area; like you would commonly see in those with arthritis. This type of pain can also be caused by exposure to cold.
Fixed: This type of pain is in one (or several) fixed location that is easy to place.
Moving: This type of pain is more diffuse; it often changes location and is hard to pin-point.
What makes it feel better?
Heat: If your pain feels better with heat, it is likely that your pain is more chronic and that it may be deficient in nature. Examples of this would be overworked muscles, joints impacted by osteoarthritis, and old injuries.
Cold: If cold helps soothe your pain, it is likely that your pain is caused by an acute injury (often accompanied with swelling, a sensation of heat, or redness), excess inflammation, or in severe cases, an underlying infection. Examples of this would be acute sprains or breaks, or inflammatory conditions like rheumatoid arthritis.
Movement: If movement helps your pain, it is likely that it is caused by a stagnation. Moving the muscles and joints in the area helps clear the stagnation and therefore eases the pain. This is also commonly found in types of pain that are bad in the morning but get better once you start the day.
Rest: When taking a break and resting helps ease your pain, this is an indication that your pain may be caused by a deficiency of Qi (vital energy). If you are someone who doesn’t get enough rest, this can also indicate that you may not be giving your body enough time to heal and therefore your pain won’t ease until it is given the space to do so.
Where is the pain located?
Lower Back: Lower back pain is common in those who sit long periods of time, like you might have to if you work a desk job. It can be an accessory symptom to hip or pelvic pain and it can also be indicative of illness related to the kidneys.
Knees: Knee pain is often the result of repetitive strain and is a weak point to physical injuries as a result of sports or manual labour. Knee joints may be susceptible to arthritis and a sensation of weakness in the knees can be linked to kidney health.
Head: Headaches or pain around the head can be related to a whole lot of different health concerns. This includes everything from digestive issues and food sensitivities to stress and fatigue to head trauma and injury.
Neck and Upper Back: One of the most common causes of pain in the neck and upper back (especially if that pain is stiff or tight in nature) is stress. Other contributing factors are often poor posture, asthma, or injuries like whiplash.
Shoulders: Shoulder pain is generally related to repetitive strain, poor posture, or stress. However, shoulder pain can also be caused by some digestive issues, particularly those related to gallbladder function.
Chest: Chest pain can be related to anything from COPD and asthma to poor posture, heart health, and digestive concerns.
Abdominal Pain: Abdominal pain is common in those experiencing digestive illnesses such as GERD, IBS, or diverticulitis. It can also be related to menstrual concerns, referral pain from the hips and low back, as well as liver and gallbladder function and health.
What should you do next?
After deciding that you want to receive acupuncture treatments for your pain, the next step is to reach out and book an appointment! During your first treatment, the acupuncturist will go through your health history with you to find out about your concerns and what might be causing your symptoms. They will work with you to come up with a treatment plan that fits your unique needs. After that, the only thing left is to begin your treatments and help you get relief.
If you have any questions or are interested in booking a no-obligation 20 minute free consultation with one of our practitioners, you can contact us or book online. Curious about what else acupuncture can help you with? Find more topics we’ve covered here.