Chronic Pain How Acupuncture & Oriental Medicine Can Help

Editor’s note: Wellness Word is an informational column which is not meant to replace a health care professional’s diagnosis, treatment or medication.


Many suffer from chronic pain that affects us in various ways. Pain may keep us from enjoying life to its fullest potential. One of the oldest successful ways to treat chronic pain is using Acupuncture & Oriental Medicine (AOM). Acupuncture refers to the insertion of thin mono-filament needles about the diameter of a hair into the acu-points or “gateways” in the musculature of the body. Customized herbal formulas to stop pain, food therapy, moxabustion, cupping, and numerous Asian body-work modalities such as tuina, sotai and shiatsu are also aspects of traditional East Asian healing modalities.

Acupuncture treatments offer numerous benefits decreasing inflammation, increasing white blood cells in the area, engaging the parasympathetic nervous system (“rest and digest”), improving circulation, and releasing endorphins. While treating pain may be the main agenda, the nourishing of the mental-emotional-spiritual aspects is a complimentary benefit. Painful conditions often lock people in sympathetic mode (“fight or flight”) elevating cortisol levels thus reducing sleep and not allowing people to relax. Adequate sleep is paramount for healing. Acupuncture promotes sleep and improves disposition.

Pain is as varied and nuanced as the people who are in pain. An advantage of acupuncture treatments is that everyone gets an individualized diagnosis and treatment protocol based on traditional Asian medicine principles. The “root” of any condition can be different for each person even though the manifestation of the imbalance appears the same. Acupuncture, herbs, and bodywork help to harmonize the excess and deficiency in each person’s body. The practitioner finds these through numerous traditional diagnostics such as reading the pulse, tongue and physical structure. Each acu-point has characteristics to help balance the body physically and emotionally.

Perhaps the biggest advantage is that acupuncture utilizes your body’s own innate energy (qi or ki) processes and works to properly redistribute them. This can safely be done in conjunction with the medical care people are already undergoing. In many cases, patients find they can actually reduce the amount of pain-killers they take.

Pain may stop after an injury only to return years or decades later because the imbalance of the injury was never fixed. Eastern thought explains there is an external (think muscle, skin, tendons) and an internal relationship (organ function) for each aspect of our lives. For example, an untreated external physical injury can follow the meridian lines internally over time to affect how an organ functions. Internal injury will reverberate outwards. Neuropathy due to diabetes or gall bladder stones with scapular pain are both examples.

Pain is caused by numerous factors, inflammation from soft tissue injury from trauma, impinged nerves, neuropathy, postsurgical pain, burns, cancer, etc. Some conditions such as MS and other auto-immune diseases have few treatment options in the Western model when the clinician “cannot find anything wrong”.

The allopathic approach to pain management is often with medications. This is a great short term solution, but one mired in problems. Many medications have side effects of their own which complicates patient care. Pain meds may alter a patients cognition and job performance and are highly addictive. Some patients are still in significant pain despite the use of medications. Using a pain medication does not take into account the root of the problem.

Home therapies provide autonomy for people in chronic pain. Many foods trigger the inflammatory response which increases pain. Gluten proteins found in grains such as wheat, spelt, barley, and non-gluten free oats can increase pain for people with a sensitivity to gluten. Many people find eliminating nightshade foods such as peppers, potatoes, tomato and eggplant decrease their pain. Other common allergens or intolerances are eggs, soy, dairy and sugar. To home test for sensitivity, foods most be completely avoided for at least three weeks and individually reintroduced. An increase in pain, among other symptoms, would indicate positivity.

Curcumin supplements have been shown to decrease inflammation. Ice is best for the first 24 hours of an injury (think red- hot- swollen) and then heat afterwards unless reinjured.

Know your rights. In Oregon and other states if you have a claim for a motor vehicle accident or workers compensation you are entitled to receive complementary care for pain. Treatments include acupuncture and related care, chiropractic, massage, physical therapy and more.


Forrest Wilburn, L.Ac., MAcOM, practices Traditional East Asian Medicine at Portland Natural Health. . www.portlandnaturalhealth.netCall 503.593.5319 for more information.

Chronic Pain How Acupuncture & Oriental Medicine Can Help

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