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Expert Advice-Treatment of Pain in Traditional Chinese Medicine(TCM):

Acupuncture: Natural, Safe and Effective 

Healing Method for Pain

At some point in life, everyone experiences pain: headache, joint pain, low back pain, neck pain, TMJ, etc. Pain is the most common complaint physicians see in their practices. Besides experiencing pain, most of us have also taken a wide range of pain medications, from over-the-counter medicine like aspirin to stronger prescription drugs; and we are aware (as our doctors are) that these medications can have unpleasant and unwanted side effects. Would so many of us continue to take these synthetic Western drugs if we knew about other options that are time-tested, safe, natural and effective?

When I practiced medicine in China, we did not use many modern synthetic pain pills. Very rarely did I prescribe such pain medications for my patients. Whether a Chinese doctor has trained primarily in Western or Eastern medicine, acupuncture and patent herbal medicine are seen as the first treatment option for pain. Traditional Chinese medicine is a safe, effective and natural healing modality that has been used by a quarter of the world’s population continuously for four thousand years to deal with a variety of pain issues.

Although Chinese medicine had long been available in Asian-American communities, broader awareness of acupuncture came to the United States in 1972, when New York Times journalist James Reston went on a ground-breaking trip to China with the Nixon entourage. Once there, he suffered a severe appendicitis attack and underwent emergency surgery. During his post-operative recovery, Chinese medical doctors offered acupuncture to relieve his pain and promote healing. Mr. Reston had wonderful results and was so impressed by this ancient healing technique that he came back and wrote a front- page article for the New York Times entitled, "I saw the past, and it works." Since then, acupuncture has become increasingly popular in the United States, especially for pain-related problems. Before we talk about acupuncture treatment for pain, let us look at how Chinese medicine explains pain.

Ancient Wisdom with Scientific Evidence
Two fundamental concepts of Chinese medicine are involved in the experience of pain: the meridian system (Jing Luo); and the vital energy of the body (Chi) that flows through the meridian system. When the flow of Chi is blocked or stagnant, pain and illness result. Meridians exist at every level of the body. If Chi is blocked at the skin level, you can see bruising or swelling of the tissue. Blockage in the flesh level can produce stiff, sore muscles; Chi stagnation in the joints produces arthritis pain, TMJ pain, neck and back pain, etc. Internal blockages can produce many symptoms and kinds of pain, including headaches, sore throat, chest pain, stomach pain, menstrual pain, sciatic and nerve pain. Acupuncture is the principal treatment modality employed by Chinese medicine practitioners to break up blockages and promote the free flow of Chi through the body. When the affected meridian is correctly identified, and the hair-thin acupuncture needles are inserted into specific points along that meridian, Chi flow is restored to normal. Because meridians connect every part of the body to every other part, you may find that an acupuncturist will insert needles on your feet or hands in order to treat a headache.

Because Chi and meridians are not observable by current scientific methods, researchers in China and the West have conducted numerous studies which document the effects of acupuncture on the endocrine and nervous systems. Research shows that acupuncture stimulates the production of endorphins, which are our natural pain killers. Another proven mechanism is the dramatic increase of the adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH) with acupuncture treatment. Besides endorphins, additional neurotransmitters have been found in the natural substances whose release is stimulated by acupuncture therapy, such as serotonin, dopamine, epinephrine, norepinephrine and many others. Some studies indicate that transmission of pain signals through the central nervous system may be blocked by acupuncture. Many very well-designed clinical studies on migraine headache, low back pain, arthritis, sports injury, TMJ, and dysmenorrhea have shown significant differences between groups treated with acupuncture and the control groups not given such treatments.

Acupuncture, Effective Treatment for Pain
I have successfully treated thousands of patients for pain since I came to the United States. It is gratifying to see that people get better or are even cured by acupuncture treatments after struggling for many years with their back pain, migraines, joint pain, or whatever. Recently, a gentleman in my clinic said: "I had heard that acupuncture works, but I never expected it to work so well. I was told that I would have to live with my pain for the rest of my life. My family calls me "the pain pill expert" because I know so much about pain meds -- old ones, new ones, I’ve tried them all. I tried acupuncture as a last resort and am so glad I did." In my practice, I hear this all the time. Most people who come to my clinic for pain relief have a long history of struggling with pain. Many of them are referred to me by their physicians. Dr. Bruce Pomeranz, a neurosurgeon and professor at the University of Toronto, said, "I can’t see a better solution to long term chronic pain. There is no question in my mind that acupuncture is safer than surgery or drugs because it stimulates the natural chemical changes of the body."

Acupuncture has become a real alternative for the treatment of pain. It is widely accepted by more and more people for pain reduction. Both ancient wisdom and modern scientific research reveal that acupuncture really works -- it is not just a matter of belief. Many people become convinced of this when they see their cats or dogs get better after having acupuncture treatments.

Experience Acupuncture, Enjoy Its Benefits
Should you try acupuncture for your pain? Yes, I really encourage you to give it a try. For acute pain, you may just need one to a few treatments. For chronic conditions, a course of six to eight treatments is recommended, by which time you should be able to tell what sort of a response you are having to acupuncture. Some people notice relief right away; some need a few more treatments to notice the change. After six sessions, the practitioner typically reviews your case and discusses your progress with you. Chinese medicine is a strongly collaborative effort between the patient and the practitioner – both have to work together to insure the best results. For the commonest health problem in the world – pain – Chinese medicine is an option worth investigating.