Acute and Neuropathic Pain

The treatment of pain is what Acupuncture is best known for. Its pretty much so well known at this stage that it almost goes without saying that Acupuncture is the best known, most effective, non pharmaceutical treatment available for the treatment of pain, be it muscular or nerve inflammation related. A Recent study in emergency departments of hospitals demonstrated Acupuncture to be faster and more effective than Morphine!! Yes, really.

Pain management and resolution is pretty much an Acupuncturist’s home turf. This is partially due to Acupuncture releasing endogenous opiods, the natural ‘pain killer’ hormones of your own body. These have been proven stronger than exogenous, external pain killers. In fact Acupuncture was first introduced to the western world when doctors visiting China observed surgery happening without anaesthetic! (Don’t try that at home!).

A recent trial across three hospitals in Sydney compared acupuncture to strong pain killers: Endone, Panadeine Forte, Voltaren and Valium. The Acupuncture treatment was not only equivalent to these drugs, but patients who had acupuncture tended to recover and leave the hospital earlier! Obviously, unlike pharmaceutical drugs, Acupuncture also has minimal side effects.

Acupuncture has actually been shown as number 1 or number 2 for back and neck pain specifically, which is unsurprising to us Acupuncturists but nice for everyone else who’s not sure where to go for pain relief.

The studies have been done, the evidence is in, and Acupuncture is the number one, go to, best proven non drug treatment for pain – as recommended by the Cochrane review, Mayo clinic, Harvard Medicine, and the Joint Commission for Pain Management (USA) – among others (too many to list).

Since ‘Pain’ is such an unspecific descriptor, I thought I’d list a few things below which Acupuncture performs well for. There’s a great overall review here if you are interested.

Low back pain
Neck Pain
Shoulder pain/ Impingement
Frozen shoulder
TMJ (Temporo Mandibular Joint)
Headaches and Migraines 
Chronic pain syndromes, such as Fibromyalgia 

According to the Western medical perspective, Acupuncture has been proven to:

Relieve pain – by delivering analgesia via alpha-adreno-receptor mechanisms
Reduce inflammation – by promoting release of vascular and immune-modulatory factors
Improve muscle stiffness, joint mobility and dispersal of swelling – by increasing local microcirculation
Accelerate repair of injured body tissue
Improve function and mobility
Relieve stress and promotes wellbeing, thereby facilitating recovery – by stimulating nerves located in muscles and other tissues, which leads to release of endorphins

A 2008 study published in the Journal of Alternative & Complementary Medicine found that participants who received acupuncture for muscle soreness 24 and 48 hours after they had exercised to exhaustion reported feeling significantly less pain than those participants who didn’t receive acupuncture. With that in mind, ideally maximum benefit is achieved if you have Acupuncture treatment within the first 24-48 hours of an acute injury, or neurological damage/ symptoms.

The usual suspects of nerve impingement like sciatica, or any kind of nerve compression, such as whiplash, vertebral damage/ compression, post surgical pain or neuralgic conditions respond well to Acupuncture.

SchrÃder S et al. Acupuncture treatment improves nerve conduction in peripheral neuropathy. Eur J Neurol 2007; 14: 276-81.
Phillips KD et al. Effect of acupuncture administered in a group setting on pain and subjective peripheral neuropathy in persons with human immunodeficiency virus disease. J Altern Complement Med 2004; 10: 449-55.
Cidral-Filho FJ et al. Manual acupuncture inhibits mechanical hypersensitivity induced by spinal nerve ligation in rats. Neuroscience 2011; 193: 370-6.
Grissa M1, Baccouche H, Boubaker H, Beltaief K, Bzeouich N, Fredj N, Msolli MA, Boukef R, Bouida W, Nouira S. Acupuncture vs intravenous morphine in the management of acute pain in the ED. Am J Emerg Med. 2016.