Acupuncture and Pain Management

By Bill Reddy, L.Ac., Dipl.Ac.

STATISTICS:

Chronic pain is one of the most costly health problems in America. Sixty four percent of all job-related illness is now caused by repetitive strain injury, costing businesses over $100 Billion per year, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. NIH statistics show that low back pain will affect 65 to 80 percent of people at some time in their lives, and that it is the most frequent cause of limiting activities in people younger than 45 years old. Other causes of chronic pain include cancer, arthritis, and headaches/migraines. Cancer patients in the intermediate or advanced stages suffer moderate to severe pain, with more than 1.3 million new cases diagnosed per year in the United States. Arthritis pain and headaches affect nearly 45 million Americans per year each, with an average of $4 billion spent on over the counter pain medications and 157 million workdays attributed to headaches alone.

OPTIONS:

Although the mechanism of chronic pain is still not fully understood, the latest medical theory holds that nervous tissue in a particular part of the body becomes hypersensitive. The nerve becomes coated with "substance P" - a neurotransmitter that sends pain to the brain. Even though the initial injury may be healed, dull, aching pain may remain due to this substance continuing to irritate the nerve bundles. Cayenne pepper is a topical agent that can help this situation. Yes. The common cooking spice. It contains the active ingredient capsaicin that literally blocks the substance P, and reduces or eliminates the pain. Just take a tablespoon of cayenne pepper and mix it with a few drops of oil (peppermint/olive/vegetable - it doesn't matter) and place the paste on the area of pain. Use rubber gloves if you wear contact lenses! Do not apply on or near mucous membranes or sensitive skin which can result in a serious burning sensation. (Capsaicin is the active ingredient in pepper spray…)

ACUPUNCTURE:

Acupuncture is best known for its effectiveness on pain relief. The major difference between the Chinese medical approach and the Western medical approach to pain is addressing the root cause versus treating the symptom. Let's take an example of knee osteoarthritis (OA) pain. A physician or Rheumatologist would recommend the patient take Vioxx or Celebrex, which are the latest development in anti-inflammatory medications. Beside the side effect of platelet aggregation, or the potential for blood to clot (increasing the likelihood of heart disease or stroke) the drug does not help the body heal - it only reduces inflammation of the knee. When the patient discontinues use of the drug, the pain returns. The majority of arthritis sufferers plan on taking Vioxx/Celebrex for the rest of their lives. In contrast, acupuncture stimulates the body to heal itself. A landmark study at the University of Maryland medical school demonstrated that acupuncture has an 88% effective rate in the treatment of OA of the knee. The measures of the study included range of motion, functional use, visual analog pain scale, and analgesic consumption to name a few. The missing piece of information would be Magnetic Resonance Imagery (MRI) to demonstrate the re-growth of articular cartilage. The pain associated with knee OA is related to the lack of cartilage "padding" between the femur and tibia and fibula bones. If acupuncture did not stimulate cartilage growth, it would be hard to believe that pain reduction would last over a year as the study demonstrated. In the treatment of vascular headaches, a variety of drugs are used for pain management, but never cure the condition. Acupuncture "teaches" the patient's body to have greater smooth muscle control of the blood vessels in the brain, reducing or eliminating the headaches. If you or someone you know is suffering from chronic pain, try the 5000 year old tradition of acupuncture - it works!

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