In Western cultures it is common practice to relieve various types of pain with over-the-counter or prescription medicines. Pain relief comes in a pill. Or does it? Even if the pain subsides for the moment, the side effects from taking the pain killers may be unbearable for certain people, resulting in more problems than the medication seem to solve. An example of this is aspirin, which has been linked to gastrointestinal problems. Oxycontin has proven to be a dangerous painkiller for doctors to prescribe because of its addictive qualities. More recently the much publicized pain killer Vioxx, a cox-2 inhibitor, was taken off the market due to an increase in cardiac risks, which is correlated with taking this drug.
Cox-2 inhibitors prevent inflammation by blocking the cox-2 enzyme from producing a chemical message that indicates pain to the brain. There are ongoing discussions about whether other cox-2 inhibitors should be taken off the market.
However, many people still experience pain despite taking such medications. This is why many Americans seek alternative methods and medicines to hopefully find an effective way to ease their pain with minimum side effects, such as acupuncture. When it comes to pain relief Western medicine is not meeting its demands from patients with chronic pain. Is acupuncture an effective alternative to taking pain medications?
Acupuncture, a traditional Chinese medical technique, has been used for many centuries by the Chinese to treat all types of disease and pain. This technique inserts very thin metal needles into specific points in the body. The needle will pierce the skin, but the patient should not be in pain. It is believed that the body contains about 500 acupuncture points connected to the 14 main meridians or channels. Certain acupuncture points are used to treat specific locations of the pain. For instance, acupuncture points on the thumb, knee and wrist are used to treat headaches.
To understand this ancient technique, one must grasp the concept of "chi". Traditional Chinese medicine is rooted in the idea that "chi", or energy, flows through all living things, including the human body. A disruption in chi, caused by an imbalance of ying (negative energy) and yang (positive energy), is the origin of illness and disease. Acupuncture brings ying and yang back into balance by unblocking the chi and restores the body to a healthy state. The concept of chi is not mentioned in any modern medical textbooks, but for centuries, traditional Chinese medicine has based its system of diagnosis and treatment on the idea of keeping the chi in equilibrium.
Many studies have shown that acupuncture is an effective way to treat pain.
Multiple studies have shown that acupuncture is an effective treatment for knee and back pain. Because traditional Chinese medicine is not based on a modern understanding of the human body, there are many people who are skeptical about acupuncture. Nevertheless, mounting evidence reveals that acupuncture can bring about pain relief. With all the medical advances taking place in Western medicine, a 2000-year-old technique for treating pain is making a comeback.
Even though no definitive answer is available at this moment, there are theories on how acupuncture might work. Studies have shown that acupuncture stimulates the nervous system to release natural pain killers such as endorphins, thereby reducing the pain experienced by the person.
Another idea is that acupuncture blocks the transmission of electrical impulses to the nervous system, thus preventing pain.
When an outside stimulus is detected by sensory neurons, a pain message in the form of electrical impulses is sent to the spinal cord. The spinal cord then processes the information and sends it to the brain. A person is believed to experience pain when the message is relayed to the brain.
Acupuncture may also work through the placebo effect by leading the patients to believe that their pain is being treated. However, as mentioned previously, many studies have ruled out the placebo effect by giving both fake and real acupuncture treatments.
Given that acupuncture is still used extensively in China and the side effects from western medicine, this treatment should be an option of which patients with chronic pain should be aware. Although a medical explanation of how acupuncture works is still in development, much research supports the fact that acupuncture brings about pain relief for many people. The question should not be on how acupuncture works, because people living with chronic pain today are looking for relief. I believe the medical community should make an effort to provide patients with all the viable options. Acupuncture is an effective method of pain relief as studies have shown. The unanswered question of why acupuncture works will be interesting for researchers to continue exploring. A new way of thinking about pain may come about from its discovery.