How Effective Is Acupuncture For Pain Relief?

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Acupuncture is well known for its ability for pain relief, including chronic pain. Pain relief using Acupuncture is noticeably effective, often almost immediately. 

Acupuncture for acute and chronic pain relief is an area I have worked in for several years, both in my clinical practice, and as a volunteer concentrating on pain alleviation through Acupuncture in a palliative care facility. I have also attended many conferences and training courses on this particular aspect of Traditional Chinese Medicine. I have received training in the “Balance Method” from Dr. Richard Tan, one of the foremost experts in Acupuncture for pain relief and pain management of chronic pain conditions.

Acupuncture for Pain Relief

Dr. Tan’s contributions to the modern understanding and practice of Acupuncture are world-renowned. His simple but effective pain treatment approach attains clinical results within minutes after Acupuncture treatment for pain has begun. A unique quality of Dr. Tan’s Balance Method is that needles are placed in balancing channels located primarily in the lower half of the arms and legs, rather than in the immediate area of discomfort or pain. This technique is highly effective, and also requires fewer needles. Patients often experience immediate pain relief starting from the very first Acupuncture treatment session. Most patients require two to six treatments to resolve pain issues.

Pain can originate from a wide variety of causes. Perhaps you’re experiencing postoperative pain from surgery? Arthritis? A sports injury? Menstrual Cramps? Cancer-related pain? Or maybe the cause of the pain is undiagnosed? If you are tired of living with persistent discomfort, you may want to give Acupuncture a try.

Chronic Pain is NOT a Diagnosis, but a Warning….

Acute pain is a normal response to an injury or a medical condition, but what happens when acute pain begins to linger and then transforms into a chronic pain condition? What happens when you’ve exhausted all conventional medical and physical therapy treatment options, you’ve perhaps undergone surgery, you’ve tried other alternative treatments, you’re on pain medication, and you’re STILL in pain? 

Emotionally, you may begin to feel depressed or frustrated, which may make your pain worse. The pain may prevent you from getting a full night’s sleep, so now you’re sleep-deprived and irritable. Your relationships may suffer. You may not be able to think clearly, and you may experience memory loss or depression.

A clinical study, for example, found that depression is more common in people with arthritis. Chronic long-term pain is ultimately exhausting, and negatively impacts your quality of life. If severe enough, chronic pain can also negatively affect your spirit and sense of self-worth.

To relieve their pain, many people take over-the-counter medications, apply topical pain relievers, or take prescription medicines – either acetaminophen or non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs, including aspirin, naproxen, and ibuprofen). Even if the pain subsides for the moment, the common side effects from taking pain killers on a long-term basis may result in more problems than the pain medication seems to solve. Opioid medications, for example, are used in cases of severe pain but can be addictive. However, many people still experience pain despite taking these drugs, leading them to seek alternative methods and medicines to ease their pain with minimum side effects.

Pain signals are not a diagnosis but rather an indication or a warning that a problem exists somewhere in the body. The exact location of pain and the types of pain experienced may point to the problem, as in elbow pain above an inflamed tendon. The site of the pain you’re experiencing may be related to issues far away, as in leg pain resulting from a herniated disk pushing on a nerve in the back. The intensity of the pain usually indicates or warns of the problem. Each person has a different pain threshold, but pain levels that increase or do not lessen over time point to something that needs attention.

The onset and type of pain are also critical factors. Was there an accident or incident? Did the pain gradually develop over time or during a certain period of life? The characteristics of pain give important information about what is causing the body to send this signal. Once noticed, it is vital to address the underlying problem that forced the body to send a pain message, not to just turn down the discomfort. Otherwise, the body will send out other warning signals until the core problem is corrected.

How does Acupuncture give you Acute Pain Relief?

Many therapies attempt to stop or alleviate pain. Most of them mask the pain signals while hoping the body can heal itself, or push the body to heal faster while offering limited pain relief. Increasingly, Acupuncture is part of an integrative or complementary therapeutic approach towards pain relief. However, on its own, Acupuncture is a compelling approach to both pain relief AND healing because it decreases pain levels as it stimulates the body’s healing response. There’s also minimal risk of any adverse effects.

In Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), Acupuncture brings the body’s systems into harmony and balance. Specific acupuncture points on the body correspond to energy channels called “meridians.” When a meridian is blocked, the body’s life energy (Qi) backs up in some areas, and dries up in others, causing an imbalance that prevents the body’s organs from working harmoniously. Using Acupuncture on the correct points can clear the blocked meridians and correct the energy flows, leading to relief from symptoms caused by the imbalance.

Scientific evidence shows that the insertion of needles into designated Acupuncture points speeds the conduction of electromagnetic signals within the body. These signals may increase the flow of endorphins and other pain-relieving chemicals, as well as immune system cells, which aid healing. It would appear that Acupuncture resolves acute pain by affecting several pain pathways and healing responses at the same time: 

  • Raises endorphin levels and diminishes the nervous system’s pain response
  • Decreases inflammation and swelling
  • Relaxes muscles and stops spasms
  • Increases blood circulation and blood flow to the local area, enhancing healing

Acupuncture for the relief of acute or chronic pain works amazingly well. In some cases, Acupuncture works even better than pain medication, and without the side effects. 

Almost every person finds Acupuncture treatments to be relaxing. Many do not expect this effect, especially when they’re dealing with painful conditions, but Acupuncture balances various parts of the body together, resulting in a person feeling calm and peaceful. 

Pain is stressful and can wear someone down, causing irritability, tension and insomnia. By relaxing the whole person, Acupuncture also helps eliminate these other negative aspects of pain, and it does so in a natural way, with no adverse side effects.

For those who have reservations about Acupuncture Needles, I also offer needleless Acupuncture, including electrodermal Acupuncture. This modality uses electrical nerve stimulation, Bian stone or laser beam in place of Acupuncture needles.

For some patients, I may recommend Chinese Herbal Medicine, where this is appropriate. I may also use auricular Acupuncture (or ear Acupuncture), placing tiny seeds on various points around the ear. Ear Acupuncture can be a very effective treatment method for chronic pain issues. Unlike Acupuncture needles, these ear seeds or pellets can be applied and remain on the ear for lengthy periods, offering long-term therapeutic effects.

The idea of Traditional Chinese Medicine is to look at each person holistically. Therefore, to help my patients recover sooner, I may also suggest lifestyle improvements. These can include new exercise routines, supplements, diet, sleep hygiene and stress management techniques. While helping my patients to relieve pain, my goal is also to improve their health conditions.

How many Acupuncture treatments will I need for Pain Relief?

Acupuncture can help resolve the more profound internal causes of pain, but you should be aware that it usually takes several sessions for complete healing. However, this may vary considerably based on other conditions and variables. 

Each patient may receive an individualized treatment plan based on age, past medical history, lifestyle, treatment goals, and current pain status in my practice. 

Generally speaking, acute pain is often resolved in a short series of treatments spaced close together. In contrast, chronic pain requires consistent regular Acupuncture pain relief treatment over a more extended period.

General or Common Types of Pain which Acupuncture may treat:

  • Arthritis and joint pain (shoulder, wrist, hand, knee, ankle, foot)
  • Bursitis (shoulder, hip, calcaneal)
  • Cancer-related pain
  • Causalgia
  • Chronic pain syndrome
  • Complex regional pain syndrome
  • Diabetes-related nerve pain (Diabetic Neuropathy)
  • Fibromyalgia
  • Menstrual pain or menstrual cramps
  • Muscle tension (shoulder, arm, neck, back, thigh, calf)
  • Muscle spasms (shoulder, arm, neck, back, thigh, calf)
  • Myofascial pain syndrome (shoulder, arm, neck, back, thigh, calf)
  • Overuse /overtraining injuries (shoulder, arm, neck, back, thigh)
  • Post-surgical pain
  • Reflex sympathetic dystrophy
  • Repetitive strain injuries (shoulder, arm, back, thigh, calf, foot)
  • Restricted range of motion due to pain
  • Rheumatoid arthritis
  • Sports injuries
  • Sprains (back, neck, shoulder, wrist, hand, knee, ankle, foot)
  • Strains (shoulder, arm, neck, back, thigh, calf)
  • Stress-related pain (neck, shoulders, low back, headaches)
  • Tendonitis, tendinosis, tendinopathy (shoulder, knee, ankle, foot)

Low Back Pain, Sacroiliac Pain and Pelvic Pain

  • Chronic pelvic pain
  • Chronic non-infectious prostatitis
  • Low back and gluteal myofascial pain syndrome
  • Lumbar disc pain
  • Lumbar facet joint pain and arthritis
  • Lumbar radiculopathy (nerve root injury)
  • Lumbosacral degenerative disc and joint disease
  • The nerve pain from herpes zoster (shingles)
  • Piriformis syndrome
  • Sacro-iliac joint pain and dysfunction
  • Sciatica

Neck Pain and Thoracic Pain

  • Cervicalgia
  • Cervical disc pain
  • Cervical radiculopathy (nerve root injury)
  • Neck degenerative disc disease
  • Neck degenerative joint disease
  • Neck facet joint pain and arthritis
  • Neck myofascial pain syndrome
  • Neck sprain/strain
  • Thoracic degenerative disc disease
  • Thoracic degenerative joint disease
  • Thoracic disc pain
  • Thoracic facet joint pain and arthritis
  • Thoracic outlet syndrome
  • Upper back muscle strain
  • Whiplash syndrome

Neuropathic Pain, including Headaches, Migraines & Facial Pain

  • Dental and jaw pain
  • Facial pain
  • Headaches
  • Migraines
  • Neuropathic Pain
  • Pain associated with multiple sclerosis
  • Orofacial pain
  • Tension headaches
  • TMJ syndrome
  • Learn more about Acupuncture for Headaches and Migraines

Shoulder and Upper Arm Pain

  • Bicipital tendonitis
  • Rotator cuff impingement syndrome
  • Shoulder instability (TUBS and AMBRI lesions)
  • Shoulder tendonitis/bursitis

Elbow Pain, Dorearm Pain, Wrist Pain, and Hand Pain

  • Carpal tunnel syndrome
  • Finger sprains and arthritis
  • Hand sprains and arthritis
  • Radial neuritis and neuropathy
  • Tennis & golfer’s elbow
  • Ulnar neuritis and neuropathy
  • Wrist sprains and arthritis

Hip Pain, Thigh Pain, and Knee Pain

  • ACL/MCL ligament sprains
  • Chondromalacia patella
  • Hamstring strains
  • Hip/gluteal tendonitis/apophysitis
  • Iliotibial band (IT band) pain
  • Knee meniscus injuries
  • Knee osteoarthritis
  • Patellar tendonitis
  • Patello-femoral pain
  • Post-joint-replacement recovery
  • Quadriceps tendonitis

Calf Pain, Ankle Pain, and Foot pain

  • Achilles tendonitis/tendinopathy
  • Ankle sprains
  • Ankle/foot tendonitis
  • Calcaneal bursitis
  • Calf strains
  • Plantar fasciitis
  • Sesamoiditis
  • Shin splints
  • Turf toe


Acupuncture for the Relief of Chronic Pain: A Synthesis of Systematic Reviews

How effective is acupuncture for reducing pain due to plantar fasciitis?

Classic Chinese Acupuncture versus Different Types of Control Groups for the Treatment of Chronic Pain: Review of Randomized Controlled Trials (2000–2018)

hEffects of Traditional Chinese Acupuncture Compared with Sham Acupuncture on the Explosive Force Production by the Forearm Muscles in Female: A Randomized Controlled Trial

If you’re experiencing pain for whatever reason, make an appointment to come in and see me, and find out for yourself the relief from pain that Acupuncture can give you (you can call me on (416)722-8813 to make an appointment). At Bernadette Yu Wellness, you can receive immediate Pain Relief or Pain Alleviation in almost all cases.

BTW, many Health Benefit Plans cover acupuncture treatments.