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Why Acupuncture Works For Pain – Chronic and Acute

As an acupuncturist entering her 10th year in practice, I am absolutely amazed at the number of patients I have helped in a way no other medical therapy has. When I first started out, I was upset when I heard doctors (or a person I professed my profession to) state that they don’t believe acupuncture worked. I knew it did. I spent $100,000 on a master’s level education to enter a field that I knew was special, profound and essential for many cases that modern medicine could not successfully treat. But through the years, two things happened to change my indignation:

First, physicians increasingly changed their opinion on acupuncture. While I still run across doctors who are closed skeptics, the majority of them that I have talked to personally or my patients have given feedback from, stated that they were very open to the utilization of acupuncture. The reason for this change in perception came from (I believe) three reasons:

  1. WHO (world health organization) and national agencies such as the American College of Physicians, National Institute of Health, Armed Forces/VA Hospitals and FDA have all come out in support of acupuncture. In fact, the FDA has requested that physicians refer patients for acupuncture in lieu of pain medication and the VA hospitals have encouraged their veteran patients to seek alternative care such as acupuncture.

  2. The opioid epidemic has gotten so out of hand that physicians simply do not prescribe them anymore. With very few alternatives left, they are forced to agree with patients to try acupuncture when patients ask if they should seek it.

  3. Patients are continuously giving feedback to their physicians on their positive experience with acupuncture treating their pain, more now than in the past, as it gains in popularity.

  4. Finally, there are more clinical trials available today on the positive effects of acupuncture than there were even 10 years ago.

The second reason my irritation towards those who disbelieve disappeared is simple. I help people day in and day out that have never been able to get help before. I can’t tell you the number of patients grateful to me or my medicine for the relief they have gotten which they could not get through medication, surgery and physical therapy (the three therapies that modern medicine uses). I have been able to help patients cancel impending joint surgeries, lessen or completely heal debilitating migraine syndromes, alleviate pain to the point where patients don’t have to pop aleve every few hours, balance hormonal issues, help infertility, get people through the allergy season, ease digestive disorders and calm anxiety/depression. So, nowadays, it is amusing to hear someone say they don’t believe acupuncture works or it is placebo because I have hundreds of patients that would disagree.

All of the above is great news, but it doesn’t explain how acupuncture treats pain. For me, the science is simple and I will explain it here as I explain it to new patients.

Acupuncture is roughly 5000 years old, but it was not until 2500 years ago when China became a civilization that it became a system of therapy with its own do’s and don’ts. It was at this time that the first emperor’s royal physicians started to really study anatomy and physiology and what they found was this: there are three systems that run through the entire body and everything else is compartmentalized. Those systems are the nervous system, circulatory system and muscle-sinew system. They surmised that when those three systems came together in large bundles (AKA acupuncture points) and they stimulated those large bundles with needles, they could create a positive change in the body. Taking that theory to heart, they treated patients through trial and error, wrote down the feedback and passed that information onto the next generation who built upon it. Therefore, acupuncture (and Chinese medicine which includes herbs and diet/exercise as a whole) is the oldest health system still used in the world and the one with the longest, continuing clinical trial! Centuries of stimulating large bundles of nerves, veins and connective tissue to see how the body changes in reaction to it in order to heal the body is not voodoo. It’s medicine in practice. Something our own modern, western medicine does all the time.

Let me drill it down even further. Acupuncture does this:

  1. Breaking the skin with a needle in the area of damage (such as a lower back injury) brings fresh blood flow to that area. It’s a form of defense the body performs against possible foreign invasion of bacteria. Damaged tissue needs fresh blood flow to heal. The Chinese knew this and utilized it through the use of acupuncture to heal areas of damage where blood flow was impeded.

  2. Breaking the skin causes the body to release endorphins (our natural painkilling hormone) in response to possible injury/pain. Those hormones circulate the body for up to 72 hours, allowing us to feel little or no pain during that time.

  3. By strategically needling areas where muscle is contracted or compromised, acupuncturists can stimulate the nerves that contract those muscles to relax, alleviating pressure off the body that is causing pain.

  4. Acupuncturists are trained to needle the nervous system in a way that blocks pain signals to the brain.

  5. Needling the nervous system actually triggers the nervous system to flip to a parasympathetic mode (rest and relaxation mode). Parasympathetic states allow our bodies (and minds) to heal and repair physical and psychological damage.

  6. Acupuncture creates micro damage by breaking the skin with needles, invoking the body’s healing response which is necessary to continue the healing process that was stalled from various damage that is the cause of pain.

So, in short, acupuncture blocks pain signals while stimulating the body to heal the area of damage. It’s that simple. So, consider acupuncture for pain. Drugs, physical therapy and surgery do not have to a patient’s only option, especially when those options do not help.

“Thanks to Sullivan Acupuncture I am feeling instant relief from my sciatica that had me in pain and limping for 2 months! LOVE this place!!!” – Linda P

“Heather is fantastic! She has worked on my lower back pain, stiff neck, and headaches and I always leave feeling wonderful! I have referred family and friends because she is that awesome!” – Amber M

"I had been getting weekly massage and going to different doctors to get relief for my chronic pain, then I found Sullivan Acupuncture and the results were immediate! Thank you!" – Michael A

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