Acupuncture Gets to Point of Pain Relief
By Lorraine H. Harris, L.Ac., Dipl. O.M., & MTOM
May 17, 2005

Most of us are all too familiar with the feeling of pain.

From the quick prick of a mosquito bite to more chronic and severe conditions that can seriously impair everyday functioning, pain is the body’s way of protecting itself from potential damage.

In simple scientific terms, we experience pain when special nervous system cells called receptors respond to injury, inflammation or tissue damage. These receptors are located throughout the body, acting as an “early warning system.” They send nerve impulses to the spinal cord and ultimately to the brain, where they are then interpreted as pain in an attempt to direct our attention to the area in jeopardy.

Chinese medicine offers a somewhat different interpretation of pain based on the ancient philosophy that within the human body is an animating force known as chi (pronounced “chee”) that flows along intricate and complex pathways or meridians. Practitioners of traditional Chinese medicine believe illness and pain are the result of a blockage or stagnation in the flow of chi.

The precise placement of acupuncture needles along the affected meridians can restore the flow of chi and bring the body back into balance, thereby reducing – and in many cases eliminating – pain.

The recent flurry of news reports questioning the safety of popular pain-killers such as Bextra, Vioxx, Celebrex and Aleve comes on the heels of some exciting information about the use of acupuncture in relieving arthritis pain. In December, the Annals of Internal Medicine published the results of a landmark study in which researchers concluded that acupuncture not only provides pain relief but also improves function in people with osteoarthritis of the knee. The study, the largest and longest of its kind ever conducted, concluded that acupuncture serves as an effective complement to conventional medical care.

Other studies lend support to these findings, and some even suggest acupuncture as a viable alternative to pain medications. An Italian study published in the Journal of Chinese Medicine found that women suffering from migraines who opted for acupuncture instead of conventional drug therapy experienced more significant improvement in their symptoms.

With evidence mounting about the long-term side effects of some widely-used pain killers, acupuncture offers a safe, natural, and time-honored alternative that merits consideration by anyone seeking pain relief.