Acupuncture for Muscle & Joint Pain
Probably everybody experiences numerous aches and pains during the course of their lives. Sometimes such pain is short lived and manageable, but for many people it is either so severe, or so lasting, that normal life becomes impossible. Such pain can deprive us of sleep, stop us working and cause depression and anxiety if we start to fear that the pain will never stop.
Sometimes such pain is part of a recognised condition such as rheumatoid or osteo-arthritis, or may be due to an injury or repetitive strain. Sometimes there is no obvious cause. Conventional treatment often involves strong pain-killing or anti-inflammatory medication which sometimes is ineffective and often brings unwanted side-effects. Furthermore, such treatment only masks the pain and does not address the underlying problem, so that the pain returns if the drugs are discontinued.
Muscle and Joint Pain and TCM
Pain in a particular area of the body arises when our Qi is not flowing freely through that area, either because it is stuck or stagnant, or because it is deficient. Since one of the principal functions of Qi is to bring nourishment to every area of our body, this impairment in the local Qi flow impairs our body’s natural healing process and prolongs the pain. Acupuncture can be extremely effective in alleviating pain because it regulates and frees up the flow of Qi; at the Clinic of Traditional Chinese Medicine we spend quite a lot of our time treating pain of various kinds.
Usually there will be two aspects to this treatment. The first priority, of course, is to stop, or at least alleviate, the pain itself. Acupuncture needles may be inserted near the area of pain, and also at other points on the meridians involved. These needles stimulate the Qi to flow more freely through the affected area, and thus reduce the level of pain. Usually a topical herbal remedy will also be prescribed which will enhance the effect of the acupuncture. How effective this treatment is will depend on the longevity of the pain; if it is of recent origin, then there may be very significant improvement very quickly. Chronic pain which has been ongoing for several years will usually need a course of treatments to make a significant difference.
In the case of acute pain caused by an accident or sports injury for example, this may be all the treatment necessary. However, in many cases of pain it is important to look at any underlying patterns of disharmony of the patient’s Qi as well. This will make the treatment more effective and help to stop the pain recurring in the future. This holistic approach to treatment may involve acupuncture, herbal therapy or Chi Kung.
The smooth flow of Qi through the body is easily affected by emotional frustration, anger and stress; this means that our pain may well be exacerbated by, or even caused by, such emotional factors, and in this case treatment also aims to restore and maintain the smooth flow of Qi, and support the patient in their attempts to lead a more balanced and happy life. To take another example, sometimes the problem may be less to do with the flow of Qi in the local area and more to do with the quality of nourishment that the Qi is bringing. If one of our organ systems is not working effectively, this nourishment may be of poor quality; for example, if the digestive system is impaired then it will not be effective in turning the food we eat into nourishment. Acupuncture can help again by regulating the systems involved, and we may also benefit from some herbal medicine to strengthen digestion.
Is Acupuncture effective in treating Muscle & Joint Pain?
The World Health Organization1 lists such conditions as neck pain, knee pain, lower back pain, tennis elbow and rheumatoid arthritis among those which acupuncture has been proved, through controlled trials, to be an effective treatment.
Further research has shown that acupuncture treatment can promote resolution of injuries by: providing pain relief 2, increasing local microcirculation3 which aids dispersal of swelling and bruising, and suppressing the peripheral inflammatory response4 and other anti-inflammatory mechanisms5,6.
1 WHO (2002):Acupuncture: Review and Analysis of Reports of Controlled Clinical Trials
2 Pomeranz B. (1987) Scientific Basis of Acupuncture in Stuz & Pomeranz eds Acupuncture Textbook and Atlas Heidleberg: Springer-Verlag : 1-18
3 Komoroi M. et al (2009) Microcirculatory Responses to Acupuncture Stimulation and Phototherapy Anesth Analg 108(2):635-40
4 Kim HW et al (2008) Low- Frequency Electroacupuncture Suppresses Carrageenan Induced Paw Inflammation in Mice Via Sympathetic Post-ganglionic Neurons, while High Frequency EA Suppression is Mediated by the Sympathoadrenal Medullary Axis Brain Res Bull 28: 75(5) 698-70
5 Kavoussi B & Ross BE (2007) The Neuroimmune Basis of Antiinflammatory Acupuncture Integr Cancer Ther 6(3) 251-7
6 Zijlstra FJ et al (2003) Anti-inflammatory Actions of Acupuncture Mediators Inflamm 12(2): 59-69
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