Everyone has experienced physical pain at some stage of their lives. For the lucky ones, the pain doesn’t stick around for long, but unfortunately, this is not the reality for most of the people in the world.
What is pain?
In Western Medicine, pain is described as a complex system involving a network of wires. The brain and the nerves inside the spine (the spinal nerves) form the central nervous system. The spinal nerves carry messages from the body to the brain. When you hit something, for example, the pain signals travel through these nerves to the brain causing an unpleasant sensation (1).
Chinese Medicine explains pain in general terms as stagnation of Qi and Blood caused by excessive physical work, inadequate exercise and old age. Additionally, In Chinese Medicine, pain can be also caused by climatic changes in our environment as our body needs to adjust to these changes.
The experience of pain is different for every person, and there are various ways to feel and describe it. Pain can be short or long-lived and stay in one place or spread around the body.
Types of pain:
Acute pain: Generally intense and short-lived. Acute pain is a result of an injury or localized tissue damage. Treating the injury usually resolves this type of pain.
Chronic pain: Pain that lasts longer than 12 weeks is considered chronic.
Studies have shown that chronic pain affects between one-third to one-half of the population of the UK. What is worse, this figure is likely to increase with an ageing population (2)(3). Some of the conditions that can lead to chronic pain are low back pain, chronic widespread pain, fibromyalgia and osteoarthritis.
Chronic pain causes considerable distress as it affects mobility and limits daily activity. It also has an impact on mental health, employment, social and personal life.
Pain and humid weather
Studies have suggested that people with long-term conditions such as arthritis are more likely to feel pain on humid days (4). Chinese Medicine attributes the arthritic pain to the invasion of External Pathogenic Factors (Cold, Dampness, Wind) which leads to obstructions of Qi and Blood in the body. The diagnosis in Chinese Medicine is Painful Obstruction Syndrome (Bi Syndrome) (5).
So, if you wonder why you get more pain in your joints during a cold and damp day, look at the weather!!
Treatment and management:
There are several treatment options recommended for chronic pain including physiotherapy and counselling, but the most common form of treatment for chronic pain is painkillers. Unfortunately, the number of people taking painkillers across the world has skyrocketed causing concern to health systems worldwide. Long-term use of painkillers can lead to drug-dependency and uncountable side effects. (6)
NICE guideline for chronic pain: painkillers out, acupuncture in….
In August, NICE (National Institute for Health and Care Excellence) released a draft of their new guidelines on how to assess and manage chronic pain. The draft which is due to be published in January 2021 outlined a non-pharmacological approach to managing chronic pain, including antidepressants, exercises, psychological therapies and acupuncture (7). The draft had a wide media coverage (8) and it is potentially a great opportunity for acupuncture to get more recognition in the national healthcare scene.
How does acupuncture work for pain?
Acupuncture stimulates the release of the body’s natural painkillers and affects areas in the brain involved in processing pain. Stimulation of certain acupuncture points has been shown to affect areas of the brain that are known to reduce sensitivity to pain and stress. The resulting biochemical changes influence the body's homeostatic mechanisms, thus promoting physical and emotional well-being, as well as promoting relaxation.
Acupuncture is widely used to relieve a variety of pain conditions by strengthening deficiencies, unblocking Qi stagnation and promoting blood circulation. The effectiveness of acupuncture for pain management has been strongly verified by large randomized controlled trials (RCTs) and meta-analyses. (9).
Acupuncture, when given by well-trained practitioners, is one of the best options for chronic pain as acupuncture does not only offer benefit for the pain itself, but it also provides emotional support. What is more, acupuncture has no side effects!!
Increasingly more people are turning to Chinese Medicine as an alternative for pain relief and acupuncture has so much to offer to the wide spectrum of symptoms seen in people with chronic pain.
If you struggle with chronic pain, please contact us for information and treatment.