According to the American Academy of Pain Medicine, pain affects more Americans than diabetes, heart disease and cancer combined. I was one of them until acupuncture, and I now live relatively pain free.
Over 30 years ago I injured my left ankle. After a debridement surgery, injections, supplements, heat and cold therapy, and activity adjustments my injury was getting worse. This past year suffering from osteoarthritis and inflammation has taken a toll on my life. I am allergic to aspirin and ibuprofen, so over-the-counter medication was not a solution for pain management. Living with daily pain- rated an eight with ten being the worst pain possible - I visited the doctor who informed me after a recent MRI that the only option to permanently relieve the pain was an ankle fusion. I am a healthy 53-year-old, and for me this was not a realistic option.
Noting my reaction, the doctor advised me to consider acupuncture for pain relief. My only knowledge about acupuncture was that needles are inserted to stimulate healing by balancing energy. I was skeptical that correcting an imbalance of energy was going to ease my chronic pain. Desperate for relief, I reluctantly made an appointment with his recommended acupuncturist.
When I arrived at the acupuncturist's office I was impressed with her scientific credentials. We discussed my chronic pain, and I lay back on the padded table to begin the process. I was apprehensive as she opened the box of disposable needles. She proceeded to place needles in my arms, legs and around my injured ankle -- there may have been other needles, but I had my eyes shut. I was surprised there was no pain from the actual needle insertion, but when she inserted a needle in my leg I felt a bizarre throbbing sensation. It felt like a rushing river running along the left side of my body. The acupuncturist asked if I was OK. I told her that the left side of my body felt electric. She said, "this is good, you are feeling the flow of qi."
Ping Gu, O.M.D., M.D. (Japan), Director of Institute of Alternative Medicine says:
Acupuncture is one of the key components of traditional Chinese medicine and has been practiced for thousands of years. Health is achieved by maintaining the body in a balanced state. Disease is due to an internal imbalance that leads to blockage in the flow of qi, the vital energy that circulates along pathways known as meridians, or energy-carrying channels. Illness is caused by a disruption of qi, which leads to an imbalance of energy. Acupuncture can correct this energy disruption using the meridian system to locate and treat many conditions.
It is no surprise many are skeptical of acupuncture, how do you see energy under a microscope? I could not "see" this flow of energy, but I was feeling it.
She turned on a heat lamp and placed it over my injured ankle, turned on mellow music, set an egg time for 20 minutes and suggested I take a nap. I had no idea how this was actually going to relieve my pain, but I was intrigued by the experience.
Ping Gu, continues:
Pain is a feeling triggered in the nervous system. When acu-points are stimulated near nerves, causing a feeling of heaviness, tingling or fullness in the muscle, a signal is sent to the brain and spinal cord. This causes a release of endorphins and other neurotransmitters that block the message of pain from being delivered up to the brain.
The egg timer went off and the acupuncturist came in to remove the needles and turned off the heat lamp. I sat up, put my shoes on and stepped off the table, and then it happened.
I stood up and walked out and felt nothing! No pain! I kept walking, how is this possible? I always feel pain, like knives with every step. I walked to the car thinking this positive effect would wear off by the time I got home. I shared the great news with my husband, and we decided to look at my ankle. My deformed ankle from years of swelling was almost 50 percent smaller. I was happy, but still skeptical that it would wear off like a dose of aspirin.
The next morning I stepped into my slippers, and no pain. A few more days, still no pain. The next week I scheduled two appointments a week for the next two months. I will continue to respect my injury and work closely with my orthopedic surgeon, but acupuncture helped reduce the inflammation and pain. The quality of my life is greatly improved. I am now an advocate for acupuncture.
The World Health Organization endorses acupuncture, and clinical studies have shown it to be a beneficial treatment for many conditions, including:
- Chronic pain: migraines, neck and back pain, tendonitis, sciatica, carpal tunnel syndrome, fibromyalgia and rheumatoid arthritis
- Digestive disorders: irritable bowel syndrome, colitis, gastritis and constipation
- High blood pressure
- Urinary and reproductive disorders: menstrual cramps, irregular or heavy periods, infertility and menopausal symptoms
- Addictions to nicotine, alcohol and drugs
- Overweight or obesity, when coupled with diet and exercise
- Psychological and emotional disorders: depression, anxiety, stress and insomnia
- Symptom management for adverse reactions to chemotherapy and radiation, including fatigue, generalized pain, dry mouth, peripheral neuropathy, nausea and vomiting
- Seasonal allergies
Although acupuncture is not a "cure-all" treatment, it is very effective in treating several diseases and conditions. Acupuncture also can improve the functioning of the immune system (the body's defense system against diseases). For certain conditions, such as cancer, acupuncture should be performed in combination with other treatments.
For those living in pain, the bridge between Eastern and Western medicines may provide options. This skeptic is thrilled to have been nudged across into unknown territory and presented a drug-free solution for living with chronic pain.