Acupuncture for Pain Relief

Chronic pain, whether from a pinched nerve, sciatica, arthritis or other conditions can be very frustrating for the sufferer. It is often difficult to treat nerve pain with traditional medications as nerve pain does not respond well to prescription pain relievers, including narcotics.

OVERVIEW OF TREATING PAIN

Any time there is pain in the body, you have sensory nerves which are firing and you might or might not have a structural problem causing the sensory dysfunction. In most cases chronic pain has no structural cause. The problem with most doctors who are not well versed in the field of neurology is their immediate assumption that if you have pain, there must be a structural reason for the pain. In other words, there must be some form of structure, either bone, soft tissue, disc or some object actually pushing on the sensory nerve, causing it to continuously fire. This assumption is not always true.

In order for the brain to register pain, there has to be two types of neural signals hitting the brain at about the same time. The first signal is from the sensory nerve or nerves themselves. The second is from the proprioceptive nerves which are also firing right next to the sensory nerves. The proprioceptive nerves tell the brain where your pain is emanating from. If everything is working properly, the brain will release a torrent of what are called enkephalins. These chemicals are the body’s natural pain killers, and they plug up the pain receptor sites in the brain, all along the spine, and on the the capillary beds where you feel the pain. They stop the chronic pain and allow the body to return to normal function.

Obviously, with those patients who suffer from chronic discomfort, this mechanism is no longer working. There are many reasons the body’s natural pain-relieving mechanism could have malfunctioned. However, the number one cause appears to be a chronic signal strength problem in the proprioceptive neural tissue. If the neural threshold level (signal strength) is too low, the brain will not know exactly where to release the enkephalins and thus the pain continues. Acupuncture will raise the signal strength on the proprioceptive pathway and the result is a sudden and dramatic relief from pain. For this reason, we can treat an incredibly wide variety of pain problems.

This technique does have its own problems when a patient’s pain is caused by a structural problem. In this case, there is actual tissue pushing directly on a sensory nerve or group of nerves. Jumping the signal strength on the proprioceptive pathway alone will not solve this type of problem. These patients usually need more invasive procedures, such as surgery, and we can assist our patients in a referral to the proper Western medicine specialist.

BACK PAIN AND SCIATICA

Back pain, whether caused by chronic sciatica, a bulging disc, or arthritis is very painful and can be disabling. A person suffering from sciatica has an inflamed sciatic nerve. This nerve starts roughly at the base of the spine, travels down the back of the leg and then stops in your foot. Sciatic pain is difficult to treat because nerve pain does not respond well to painkillers. Sciatica can cause severe, stabbing pain and can make the patient cry out when sudden movements are made.

Acupuncture in Seattle at Pinnacle Integrative Health, works by stimulating the nervous system and allowing for the body to regain its natural balance.

There are also other ways to relieve back pain without medication. These include physical therapy, and a progressive exercise program that uses both stretching and balance techniques. Back pain may not be completely relieved by exercise or physical therapy alone and that is when alternative treatments become useful. Strengthening the stomach muscles through exercise is a specific way to increase back strength and improve the overall functioning of the low back.

SHOULDER PAIN

Shoulder pain is another difficult to treat illness because of the complexity of the shoulder joint. The shoulder is a ball and socket joint, attached together by ligaments and protected by cartilage. If there is ligament damage or the cartilage has worn down, the joint will hurt when it is used. There is no significant way to permanently stop shoulder pain that is caused by worn cartilage without surgery. Acupuncture is a very successful way to help you keep pain at bay while you wait for a surgical procedure, and to aid in post-surgical recovery.

ARTHRITIS

Arthritic pain can be felt anywhere in the body where there is a joint. Arthritis can be widespread or it can be concentrated in a knee, low back, or shoulder. It is a very common health ailment for the general public and with early management, arthritis pain does not have to be disabling. You can live with arthritis for a long time without pain if you make changes in your lifestyle that include alternative therapies.

Those that suffer from arthritis will likely find relief from acupuncture treatments because acupuncture treats the whole body and promotes overall wellness. Arthritis sufferers likely have arthritis in more than one place and analgesics only help for so long.

Chronic, low grade pain can lead to a decrease in activity and a lack of enjoyment in activities because the pain is just too much to deal with. People that suffer from chronic pain are more prone to depression because they are no longer able to do things that they once enjoyed. They may suffer loneliness and feel that they are suffering alone. As a whole-body medical system, this is the kind of condition Chinese Medicine treats with high success. Our treatments for arthritis involve a combination of pain relief, reduction of inflammation, dietary assessment and restructuring, and emotional support, resulting in an overall reduction of pain and an increase in the patient’s vitality.

FIBROMYALGIA

Fibromyalgia is a chronic disorder characterized by widespread pain that is often accompanied by fatigue, depression, sleep disturbance, cognitive impairment, and digestive and urinary symptoms.

It is a poorly understood disorder in which pain signals processed by the brain appear to be exaggerated, amplifying the sensation of pain in muscles and soft tissues. There are no tests to identify it, so fibromyalgia is diagnosed by excluding other possible causes.

Treatment may involve over-the-counter pain relievers, antidepressants, physical therapy, self-care, and medications specifically approved to treat fibromyalgia, such as Lyrica (pregabalin). 

Acupuncture treatments for fibromyalgia (FMS) and chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS or ME/CFS) are becoming much more common, either alone or as a complementary therapy. 

Chinese acupuncture dates back thousands of years as traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) but only caught the attention of the American public in the 1970s. The National Institutes of Health formally recognized acupuncture as part of mainstream medicine in 1997, saying the procedure is safe and effective at treating a wide range of conditions, including fibromyalgia.

Studies suggest that it may produce complex changes in the brain and body, possibly by stimulating nerve fibers that then send signals to the brain and spinal cord to release certain hormones that block pain and makes you feel better.

A study using images of the brain showed that acupuncture raises your pain threshold—which is low in people with FMS and ME/CFS—and therefore gives you long-term pain relief. 

And as for Acupuncture being painful? It’s generally easy to tolerate even those who are ultra sensitive to touch.