As many as one in five Australians battle with chronic and acute pain every day. Many of these people, discontented with years of pain medications, turn to an alternative therapy like acupuncture to try something new. Acupuncture has helped many people find greater relaxation, both in their bodies and state of mind, with a reduced dependency on pain medication.
This guide explores acupuncture for pain relief, including how this alternative therapy works to relieve pain and acupuncture treatments for different types of chronic and acute pain.
How Does Acupuncture Work For Pain?
Acupuncture, a medical practice based on Traditional Chinese Medicine, involves inserting thin, solid and flexible stainless steel needles into the body. There are a number of theories about how acupuncture works to relieve pain. Scientific studies suggest that acupuncture can activate neurohormonal pathways and trigger biochemical processes in the body.
How does this work? When acupuncture needles enter the body, they activate the sympathetic nervous system and parasympathetic nervous system which releases endorphins and Beta-Endorphins, working to block the brain’s perception of pain in a way similar to opioid pain medications like morphine.
It’s also possible that acupuncture works by triggering a flood of serotonin, enkephalins, γ-aminobutyric acid, norepinephrine and dopamine in the body.
In other studies, acupuncture is shown to decrease pain by reducing pro-inflammatory markers like TNF and IL-1β in the body.
Acupuncture for Chronic Pain Relief
Approximately 20 percent of adults in Australia experience chronic pain. According to the National Institute of Health (NIH), acupuncture is popular and effective in treating this chronic pain. Research shows that acupuncture can be helpful in alleviating everything from chronic lower back pain and neck pain to shoulder pain and knee osteoarthritis pain. Trials on acupuncture for treating chronic back pain, in particular, show a clinically relevant effect with very little risk of side effects.
Acupuncture for Acute Pain Relief
For acute pain, acupuncture can have an instant analgesic effect on medical conditions like tendinitis, frozen shoulder (adhesive capsulitis), tennis elbow (lateral epicondylitis), sciatica, acute lower back pain, and postoperative pain. This makes acupuncture a simple and convenient treatment for people whose daily lives are complicated by these types of pain.
Acupuncture for Dental Pain
Acupuncture has a wide range of uses in dentistry. If you experience dental pain from toothaches or post-extraction pain, acupuncture can provide soothing relief.
For temporomandibular joint (TMJ) pain, TMJ clicking and locking, chronic muscle spasms or nerve pain, acupuncture can help ease the discomfort and relax the body.
Acupuncture for Tension Headaches
About seven million Australians experience tension headaches caused by muscle contractions in the head and neck. Acupuncture has been shown to help alleviate all kinds of tension headaches, from chronic tension-type headaches and episodic headaches to migraine prophylaxis. Acupuncture can also help prevent migraines and reduce the incidence and severity of tension headaches.
Acupuncture for Pain Relief After Surgery
Acupuncture is proven to significantly reduce postoperative pain at 8 and 72 hours post-surgery and reduce the need for opioid use. But how does acupuncture work to relieve pain after surgery? According to medical studies, acupuncture stimulates the release of β-endorphin, encephalin, and endomorphin, which then activate the μ- and δ-opioid receptors. These are key receptor sites in the management of acute, chronic, and neuropathic pain.
Low-frequency (2-4 Hz) and medium-frequency stimulation (15-30 Hz) seem to produce an analgesic effect that is reversed by naloxone. This suggests the analgesia is mediated by enkephalins and endorphins. These frequencies produce analgesia that accumulate and last at least an hour after treatment
Acupuncture For Muscle Pain
Muscle pain and tightness commonly arise from activities like athletics and working in an office. Acupuncture for muscle pain has been shown to alleviate muscle pain, reduce swelling and inflammation, ease tension and improve mobility.
Acupuncture for Menstrual Cramps
According to medical studies, acupuncture can provide a welcome relief from period pain, reducing the intensity and duration of period pain by up to 50 percent. Acupuncture can also be helpful in relieving pain pain that occurs as a result of endometriosis or uterine fibroids.
How Does Acupuncture Feel?
Acupuncture needles typically do not cause pain, harm, or discomfort. Most new patients are surprised to learn that having acupuncture needles inserted is often completely painless.
When your acupuncture needles are inserted, you may feel nothing at all or you could feel a mild tingling, warmth, soreness, numbness or a heaviness like a muscle ache. This is normal and usually nothing to worry about.
Sometimes, acupuncture may feel uncomfortable because the pain you are already experiencing may make your body more sensitive. However, the pain of acupuncture will never be stronger than the pain of your condition. If you have concerns about acupuncture and pain, it’s best to talk about it with your acupuncture specialist or doctor.
Choosing An Acupuncturist For Pain Relief
The acupuncturist you choose should be nationally accredited with formal qualifications in acupuncture. Ideally, seek out an acupuncturist who specialises in treating your pain condition. Ask them about their area of expertise and how many times they have treated this particular condition. They should also interview you thoroughly to understand your health condition, diet and lifestyle before making a diagnosis.
Acupuncture works well in conjunction with Western medicine. However, it is possible that the acupuncture treatment for pain may reduce your need for certain pain medications. We recommend informing your GP that you intend to receive acupuncture before you proceed with this alternative pain treatment.
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