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Using Acupuncture for Pain Management

Medications aren't the only way to manage pain. In some cases, alternative or complementary treatments may be just as beneficial or more beneficial. One pain management treatment with a significant amount of research to back up its use is acupuncture.

The Basics of Acupuncture

Acupuncture is a method used in traditional Asian medicine which involves inserting very thin needles into the body at specific points. Sometimes these needles are heated or moved about slightly or herbs are burned near the insertion points. Treatments typically involve up to 12 sessions, each lasting between 10 and 30 minutes.

Duration of Benefits

Some people experience more benefits or longer-lasting benefits from acupuncture than do others. The painrelief benefits from just one session of acupuncture typically last a few hours. For longer-lasting relief, you'll likely need to complete a longer-term treatment program over the course of 3 months or more.

Mechanisms of Acupuncture

Although the exact mechanism isn't clear, the needles may cause the release of endorphins, serotonin, or adenosine to bring about pain relief. Another theory is that the acupuncture helps relieve inflammation, which is known to cause pain. Some people think that acupuncture benefits may be due to an increase in blood flow in the areas where the needles are inserted.

Acupuncture for Chronic Pain

Studies show potential pain relief benefits for those who suffer from headaches or lower back, shoulder, neck, arthritis, or knee pain. People who receive acupuncture treatment experience benefits compared to those who don't get this type of treatment or who had a sham version of the treatment for purposes of the study. 

Acupuncture for Menstrual Cramps

Although research is still in the preliminary stages, acupuncture may benefit women with painful menstrual cramps. The pain from these cramps may be decreased by as much as 50 percent with acupuncture, according to one study, with those receiving 3 treatments in the week before their period experiencing the most benefits.

Other Potential Benefits of Acupuncture

Some research shows that acupuncture treatments may be helpful for those undergoing cancer treatment, people with neurologic injuries, and those trying to become pregnant.

Acupuncture versus Opioids

Because of the risk of addiction, overdoses, or other adverse effects for people taking opioids, many doctors are attempting to prescribe less of these medications. Some of these doctors are turning to acupuncture instead. In one study, 32 percent of opioid users given acupuncture treatments were able to cut back on the amount of opioids they used for pain relief.

Acupuncture versus Massage

As with acupuncture, people sometimes turn to massage for pain relief purposes. At least one study showed that acupuncture was more effective for treating chronic neck pain than massage, with 50 percent of people experiencing improvements in pain compared to only 32 percent who experienced pain relief from massage. The difference was most noticeable in those with myofascial pain syndrome. 

Increasing the Potential Benefits

Recent research shows that pain relief from acupuncture may be due to the release of adenosine, which can bring about pain relief. However, caffeine binds to the same receptors as adenosine. This may explain why some people experience more benefits from acupuncture than others. Avoiding caffeine may make acupuncture more effective.

Potential Considerations

Only seek treatment from trained and certified individuals after checking with your doctor, as this limits the already very minimal risk of adverse effects from acupuncture. Certain people may want to avoid acupuncture, including pregnant women, those with a higher risk of infection, people with chronic skin problems, people with pacemakers, and people taking certain medications.
For more information on acupuncture and other methods of pain relief, contact Pain Care Management, LLC. They offer integrative pain management treatments which include both medications and complementary medical treatments.