Any conversation about acupuncture will usually start involve pain. Despite the wide spectrum of holistic clinical applications for acupuncture, it is still the most common problem that presents in my clinic. It is probably what acupuncture is best known for and indeed the most explored and explained condition scientifically.
What is Pain?
The widely accepted definition was developed by a taxonomy task force of the International Association for the Study of Pain: “An unpleasant sensory and emotional experience that is associated with actual or potential tissue damage or described in such terms.” Importantly, this definition highlights the fact that it is a subjective sensation. In other words expressions such as “it can’t be that bad” say more about the frustration of the person saying it than the person suffering. One persons intolerable discomfort may be very different to the next. Indeed it may be very different according to a number of external factors like temperature, time of day, mood etc. In my clinic, it is whatever the patient says it is.
There are a number of ways in which to classify pain but I particularly like those described by Professor G. F. Gebhart who separates into protective and non protective of acute or chronic duration.
This could be likened to my old career as a police officer. Nobody likes it much but actually its doing an essential job. In this simplest form, pain is a protective response from our body to prevent more serious injury. For example, the pain one experiences when touching something hot is a warning shot that prevents a more serious burn. Without this we’d be in big trouble. When we injure ourselves and it hurts to move in a particular way its usually to stop us moving and causing more damage. Basically, we need pain.
Non protective pain
By comparison this pain serves no obvious protective function, for example the ongoing discomfort experienced after a nerve injury.
Chronic and Acute
The terms chronic and acute can be ascribed to either of the above classifications and describe the duration of the pain. The NHS consider pain to be chronic or persistent if it has been suffered for 3 months or more and has failed to respond to standard medical treatment. This persistent condition is poorly understood. It is believed that in at least some cases, there has been a breakdown in the way in which our complex nervous system processes information.
Alarmingly its not an unusual condition. The Chronic Pain Policy Coalition in a recent publication reported around 14 million people in the UK living with this condition, 25% of whom have lost their jobs. This is a significant number of people.
How does acupuncture work?
Scientific research for acupuncture is very complex and is much debated (a subject better covered in my talks). A number of theories are suggested for the mechanism behind acupuncture treatment. Some studies have found that certain hormones released by the body for anaglesia in response to pain are released in greater quantities during electro-acupucture treatment. Another explanation is the micro trauma theory which suggests that causing a very small injury in the region of existing trauma re-activates the bodies healing mechanism, “waking it up” so to speak. All of the current theories/explanations are interesting and plausible but it is fair to say that the exact science is not fully understood. Never the less, in certain conditions such as migraine, the results of using even very basic acupuncture treatment is so positive that it is recommended by the National Institute for Clinical Excellence.
In chronic pain I find it useful to consider the problem in the Traditional Chinese Medicine paradigm. In basic terms this holds that the usual smooth flow of the bodies energy force, Qi, is disrupted which causes a blockage or stagnation. This in turn causes pain. Acupuncture at certain points on the body can get the energy moving in the right way again.
Of course moving Qi is just one part of the problem. The is to work out why the energy is stagnating in the first place. In a post trauma injury this may be easy to work out but in long term chronic issues any number of physical and emotional factors could be at work in isolation, or in collusion with one another. Looking at the wider aspects of your health and wellbeing both physically and mentally helps me to get a clearer picture of your health. Treatment is then tailored to your specific “holistic” needs.
Help with pain
If you would like more information about how acupuncture could help please contact me to discuss – Contact Details
For more information follow this link to the NHS pain management self help leaflet – Pain Toolkit