Chronic pain is defined as any pain that lasts for 12 weeks or longer. Arthritis, repetitive strain injury, and pain from sports injuries or old car accidents can all be classed as chronic pain. The first line treatment for chronic pain is usually anti-inflammatory or painkilling medications. However, these can have unpleasant side-effects and many people are now seeking natural alternatives for long-term pain relief.
Acupuncture is an ancient therapy which originated in China thousands of years ago. It works by placing fine needles at specific points on the body to prevent disease and maintain health. In the modern world, one of the most well known applications of acupuncture is in the treatment of chronic pain.
Arthritis is really a blanket term for any inflammation of the joints. The most common types of arthritis include osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis.
In osteoarthritis, the cartilage which usually cushions the joints wears away over time. This causes the bones to rub against one another causing inflammation and pain. As osteoarthritis is a “wear and tear” condition, it is more common in older people.
Rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune disease. This means that the immune system is unable to recognize the body's own tissues and begins to attack them. In rheumatoid arthritis, it attacks the joints causing pain, swelling and stiffness.
Repetitive Strain Injury
Repetitive Strain Injury (RSI) is an injury which is caused by a repetitive motion being carried out over and over again. This results in inflammation and pain in the affected muscles, tendons or nerves. It often happens as a result of work-related activity and affects the upper limbs, shoulders or neck.
The symptoms of repetitive strain injury include pain, stiffness, numbness or tingling, weakness or cramp. It can be worsened by poor posture, lack of rest, working in cold temperatures and using vibrating equipment. You can reduce your risk of RSI by asking your employer to make sure your work station is set up properly and that you get regular breaks from manual work.
A sports injury can happen due to an accident, poor technique, not warming up properly or pushing yourself too hard. Although sports injuries can improve quickly, sometimes they take months to fully heal. This causes not only pain, but also frustration as it becomes more difficult to train.
The risk of sports injuries can be reduced by making sure you have the right equipment for your sport, warming up properly and not overdoing it. If you feel pain while training, stop immediately and rest. If you do sustain a sports injury, use the RICE principle (rest, ice, compression, elevation) to try and reduce the time that you are out of the game.
Other Causes of Chronic Pain
There are many other reasons why people suffer from chronic pain. Whiplash injuries following an old car accident can take months to heal causing pain, stiffness and headaches. There are also many chronic diseases which cause pain. Fibromyalgia, lupus and multiple sclerosis are just a few examples.
There is, however, one thing which all of the above causes of chronic pain have in common...
Inflammation is a natural reaction by the body in response to injury or infection. It occurs as part of the immune system's protective function.
The immune system identifies threats such as bacteria and viruses and summons white blood cells to the area to destroy them. These release inflammatory chemicals which cause redness, heat, swelling and tenderness.
Once a potential threat has been neutralized, the immune system should switch off and inflammation should decrease. However, in some cases inflammation remains, causing chronic pain.
Acupuncture for Chronic Pain
One of the main ways that acupuncture works for chronic pain is by helping to reduce inflammation. It does this by regulating the levels of certain chemicals involved in the immune response.
It also relieves pain by affecting the nervous system, switching off pain signals before they have a chance to reach the brain. Acupuncture improves local circulation to encourage healing, and relaxes the muscles in the affected area.
Finally, acupuncture stimulates the release of neurotransmitters called endorphins. These are the body's natural painkillers and work in a similar way to opioid medications, but without the risks.
So acupuncture offers a safe and natural solution for treating chronic pain. It works with the body, encouraging it to heal itself, reducing inflammation and effectively relieving stiffness and pain.