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This post was written by Rosalind Bullard, L. Ac - the owner of City Acupuncture Silver Lake, an affordable acupuncture clinic in Los Angeles, CA.

Recently the FDA published a recommendation to doctors that they should start advising patients to try acupuncture as an alternative to drugs for pain management. As an acupuncture practitioner, it is so relieving to hear this. I know firsthand and can bear witness to the power of acupuncture to help heal both physical and emotional pain. If you aren’t ready to accept Eastern philosophy about the way energy travels throughout our body, part of the Western explanation for how acupuncture relieves our pain, is that it helps to put our nervous system into parasympathetic mode.

Our autonomic nervous system has two aspects: the sympathetic nervous system and the parasympathetic nervous system. These two systems do not act in isolation, but actually work to balance each other.

In short, the sympathetic nervous system stimulates, while the parasympathetic system relaxes. What is commonly termed, our “fight or flight response,” is our body’s sympathetic nervous system reminding us of our very base, animalistic days of running or fighting for our lives. Our bodies tense up, our blood pumps faster, our pupils dilate, and bodily functions that take energy away from our emergency modes (like digesting food properly) are delayed. Our parasympathetic nervous system is our “rest and digest” mode. This side of the equation is responsible for a healthier digestive tract, lower blood pressure, and the overall repairing of the stress our bodies endure.

What I see from my patients is an increase in “fight or flight” mode without the needed balance of “repair and restore” mode

We need to regain this balance.

The addictions that arise from trying to manage our lifestyles and pace are no surprise. People are trying to get relief. In my opinion, the opioid epidemic our country is facing exists because:

1) The drugs are extremely addictive.

2) Use of the drugs provide the user with the appearance of managing their pain and stress, without actually healing at "the root" of our pain.

Painkillers do not cure pain. There would be no epidemic if that were the case. 

Rather, the pharmaceutical industry flooded the market with new formulations of prescription opioids in the 1990s, which spiked the rate at which they were prescribed. Opioids are extremely addictive, and since the pills do not heal, the pain persists rather than restoring our body’s natural balance. Sadly, those who are addicted to opioids often suffer more physical and emotional repercussions, including continued chronic pain, strained relationships, overdoses, and death.

Luckily, acupuncture and Chinese herbal treatment can offer an alternative to help with addiction and pain. When I treat pain, I look beyond the surface of the physical symptoms.

There is usually an emotional component to the pain felt, and sometimes addiction is a part of that emotional component. Whether the initial pain is caused by emotional trauma or physical, humans bring stress to those areas of our body that need healing.

If we don’t manage the stress, we can’t manage the pain. This is why, in my opinion and practice, I look to the stress associated with the pain as an integral piece to a fuller treatment plan.

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