Acupuncture for Chronic Pain Relief 

Guy with outstretched arms on top of building, free from chronic pain

According to acupuncture theory, pain is a result of a blockage in the circulation of qi and blood. 

Qi and blood are two of the most vital substances within the body and in order to be healthy, they need to flow freely. This allows them to reach every tissue and organ, nourishing them as they go.

In an ideal situation, qi and blood can find their way around the body with ease, but in reality, they often become stuck in a particular area.

This happens for a number of different reasons. Physical trauma, overuse of a certain joint or muscle, emotional stress, and invasion by external pathogens can all impair the flow of qi and blood.

This allows them to become stagnant and results in both inflammation and chronic pain.

Physical Trauma

If you are injured, the physical damage which you sustain can cause the channels in which qi and blood flow to become narrowed. This creates a bottleneck, making it difficult for qi and blood to pass through. They are then allowed to pool in one area causing symptoms such as swelling, stiffness, loss of mobility and pain.


Overuse of a Joint or Muscle

Overusing a particular joint or muscle has a similar result as physical trauma. The main difference is that physical trauma is usually sudden, whereas overuse happens gradually over a long period of time. This can be a result of playing sports or working in a particular way, and repetitive strain injury is a perfect example. Although in cases of overuse the flow of qi and blood is reduced slowly over time, the end result is the same ??? inflammation and chronic pain.


Emotional Stress

In traditional Chinese medicine, the body and the mind are closely interconnected. If you are exposed to a particular emotion over a long time period, it can begin to affect your internal organs and cause disease.

One organ which is especially affected by emotional stress is the Liver. The Liver is the organ which is responsible for the smooth flow of qi within the body. If the Liver gets stressed, it is unable to circulate qi in the way it should. This allows it to stagnate, causing pain. The Liver also happens to be responsible for the health of the muscles and tendons. An unhealthy Liver can cause the tendons to become too tight, leading to tension, loss of mobility and pain. This means that if your Liver is thrown out by stress, you could be doubly at risk of suffering from chronic pain conditions.


Invasion by External Pathogens

Another common cause of pain is invasion by certain external pathogens known as the six evils. These are cold, heat, summer heat, dampness, dryness and wind. If your defensive system is weak, these pathogens are able to penetrate the body and cause disease. Cold, heat, dampness and wind can all collect in the channels and block the free flow of qi and blood. If you have chronic pain which is worse in cold, hot, wet or windy weather, it is likely that one of these pathogens is the cause.

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How does Acupuncture Work for Chronic Pain?

If you have ever seen a river which has been dammed, you will know that the area behind the dam quickly fills up with debris and dirt. Unable to flow away, the trash builds up more and more over time until it is removed. This polluted river is similar to what is happening in your body if your qi and blood are unable to flow freely.

Acupuncture works by inserting fine needles at specific points on the body surface. These act a bit like a sluice gate in the dam. They act to remove blockages and allow qi and blood to flow smoothly again. Over the course of several treatments, the flow improves more and more. This helps to gradually reduce the stagnation and relieve pain.

Acupuncture is an holistic treatment, meaning that it treats the whole body rather than focusing on individual symptoms. Your acupuncturist will aim to identify the underlying cause of your pain, whether it be physical, emotional or pathogenic. They will then concentrate on treating your condition at its deepest level, right from the root cause. 

From a scientific viewpoint, we know that acupuncture can help chronic pain in a number of ways. It stimulates your body's innate power to heal itself, including:

  • Affecting the nervous system and the way that your brain perceives pain signals
  • Releasing endorphins, your own natural opioid painkillers
  • Relaxing the muscles
  • Reducing inflammation
  • Improving circulation
  • Reducing emotional stress
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Acupuncture is not a quick fix like taking a pill. It takes time to work and the benefits often accumulate over time. The real advantage of acupuncture is that it offers is a gentle way to manage chronic pain without the side effects of medication. It works with your body and your mind to provide natural and long-lasting relief from chronic pain.

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 pain after the first session, but the effect will not last. In order for acupuncture to achieve it's full, cumulative, lasting effect, we have found most cases require between 8 and 12 sessions for chronic pain that has been around for more than a year.

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