Acupuncture and Pain — The Benefits of Using Acupuncture to Relieve Pain

No one is a stranger to pain. We all experience it from time to time though most everyone tries to avoid it like the plague. Medically speaking, pain is a feeling triggered in the nervous system due to some trauma, injury or illness. It may be sharp or dull, off-and-on or steady, localized (such as back pain) or all over (such as muscle aches from the flu). Often times, the purpose of pain is to alert us to injuries and illnesses that need our attention. Although pain usually goes away once the underlying problem is addressed, it can last for weeks, months, or even years. Chronic pain may be due to an ongoing condition (such as arthritis) or to abnormal activity in pain-sensing regions of the brain or the cause may not be known.

Though pain is a common problem for almost everyone, we all deal with it in different ways. Many people take over-the-counter medications—either acetaminophen or nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs, including aspirin, naproxen, and ibuprofen). If the pain is bad enough, some will take stronger medications, including NSAIDs in higher dosages and narcotics, are available by prescription only.

There are others who, not being comfortable with the side effects or other related issues to that approach, try non-drug approaches to help relieve their pain. Examples of that include physical and occupational therapy, cognitive behavioral therapy, self-care techniques, and CAM therapies such as spinal manipulation or acupuncture.

Acupuncture is among the oldest healing practices in the world and is part of traditional Chinese medicine. It has been used in the Chinese culture and various cultures around the world for over 5000 years.

Though acupuncture requires a highly trained practitioner to perform the procedure, the procedure itself is relatively simple, painless and very effective. Acupuncture practitioners stimulate specific points on the body—most often by inserting thin needles through the skin. In traditional Chinese medicine theory, this regulates the flow of qi (vital energy) along pathways known as meridians. While it is difficult to explain scientifically the theory behind why this works, traditional Chinese medicine says that when the Qi energy is blocked in the body it created illness or pain. Once that energy is freed up and flowing again the pain and illness will be alleviated.

In the 2007 National Health Interview Survey (NHIS), 1.4 percent of respondents (representing 3.1 million Americans) said they had used acupuncture in the past year. A special analysis of acupuncture data from an earlier NHIS found that pain or musculoskeletal complaints accounted for 7 of the top 10 conditions for which people use acupuncture. Back pain was the most common, followed by joint pain, neck pain, severe headache/migraine, and recurring pain.

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