Acupuncture for Acute Pain Relief 

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Acute pain comes on quickly and lasts three to six months or less. It it often caused by injuries such as strains, sprains and pulled muscles.

When we are injured, our bodies produce inflammation as part of the natural healing process. This results in symptoms such as redness, swelling, stiffness, tenderness and pain. This serves an important function as it reminds you to take extra care to protect that part of your body and avoid further injury. 

However, the results are not pleasant, and if inflammation goes on for more than a few days, you will likely want to do something to relieve it as soon as possible.

Depending on the cause of your acute pain, it might be more of a dull ache or a sharp, stabbing pain. It might be relieved or aggravated by different factors such as heat, cold, pressure or movement. Correctly diagnosing the cause of your acute pain is the key to successful treatment.

How an acupuncturist views acute pain

According to acupuncture theory, acute pain is most often caused by the stagnation of qi and/or blood. These are two of the vital substances in your body which, together, are responsible for keeping you healthy, mobile and free from disease.

A state of good health relies on the free flow of qi and blood through the vessels. If they are obstructed for some reason, they become stuck and accumulate in one area. This leads to symptoms which can be compared to that of inflammation; swelling, stiffness and discomfort.

The exact type of pain you experience will depend on whether qi or blood is primarily being affected. This is because although qi and blood are closely related to one another, they also have very different characteristics and functions within the body.



Qi has the functions of nourishing, warming and protecting our bodies. It transports nutrients between different areas and holds our organs and tissues in place. When qi is flowing freely, our bodies feel strong, vital and free from pain.

When qi gets stuck, problems start to occur. This can happen suddenly due to physical trauma, or more gradually over time due to inactivity, illness or emotional stress.

The pain caused by qi stagnation can be identified as:

  • Dull or aching in nature
  • Mobile, moving from place to place within the body
  • Relieved by heat, pressure or movement

One common example of acute pain due to qi stagnation is waking up with a stiff neck. If you sleep in an awkward position, this can block the flow of qi overnight, meaning that you wake up in pain. This type of pain is usually short-lived and can be relieved over the course of the day by stretching and massaging the area.



Blood is the more physical counterpart to qi. We are all familiar with blood from a western medical viewpoint. It is responsible for transporting oxygen and nutrients around our bodies. 

Compared with qi, blood is dense and heavy. It actually relies on qi to help it to circulate freely within the body. Therefore, if qi stops flowing freely for any reason, blood can quickly follow suit. Acute pain due to blood stagnation differs from acute pain due to qi stagnation in several ways. It is:

  • Sharp, stabbing or throbbing in nature
  • Fixed in one part of the body
  • Aggravated by heat, pressure or movement

One example of blood stagnation which everybody has experienced at some point is bruising. When the blood vessels are broken by an injury, blood is allowed to escape and pool in one area. However, blood stagnation can also happen on a deeper level, in which case you may not see any bruising on the skin. You will, however, recognize that feeling of tenderness and pain which results from blood not flowing as it should.

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Acupuncture offers a safe and natural alternative to opioids and NSAIDs. It has been used for thousands of years to treat a wide range of conditions including acute pain. From a TCM perspective, acupuncture is an effective way to move qi and blood, dispersing stagnation and relieving pain.

From a western, scientific viewpoint, acupuncture has been shown to:

  • Influence the central nervous system to block pain signals
  • Release endorphins, the body's natural painkillers
  • Reduce inflammation
  • Improve circulation


When you come for your first session, your licensed acupuncturist will ask you pointed questions to help them determine if you are experiencing pain that is more related to qi stagnation or blood stagnation.

Then they will diagnose which channels of the body have been most affected. This will help them determine which acupuncture points are most appropriate for your specific case at that specific time. It is typical to have some variation in the points used from one session to another as your condition changes. 

The needles will stay in for about 30 minutes, and your provider will be checking on you to make sure you stay comfortable. Most people fall asleep with the needles in - it's that relaxing! Learn more about what to expect here. 

In our clinical experience of over 10 years and 100,000 sessions, we have found that most people will experience at least some relief from their acute pain after the first session. In order for acupuncture to achieve it's full, cumulative, lasting effect, we have found most cases require 5 sessions. 

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