Tag Archives: Back pain

Pain

alone-62253_1920Any 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.

_DSC0099Protective pain

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?

Picture of acupuncture needlesScientific 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.

Traditional Acupuncture

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

Does Acupuncture Hurt?

Today I want to deal with the elephant in the room.  The needles!  My work involves a lot of different skills, needling being just one of them, but theres no point in avoiding the obvious fact that if you book in for acupuncture, at some point (pun intended), we are going to face the needles.

The first thing to say about this is that almost everyone I see has some trepidation about needling.  Its common and its natural.  Lets put things into context.  Until now, your only experience of a needle is likely to be a pin prick, unpleasant, or worse a syringe, painful.

I believe that much of aversion to needles is built into our psychology from birth.  Its one of the first things a baby experiences these days when its brought into the world and in my opinion, its also a fairly classic betrayal of trust.  Consider the scenario from a babies eyes.  You are with your parent(s), the person(s) solely charged with your safety and development in the early years and someone with whom you have formed a loving and highly reliant bond.  You gaze lovingly into the eyes of this person who may be talking reassuringly to you as part of a distraction technique.  All of a sudden, WHAM!.  Into the backside with a big old needle.  Then you are pumped with a mild dose of something horrible that may make you ill for a few days.   I’d like to be clear, this isn’t an anti-vaccination stand point, but just think about the psychology for a moment. Is it any wonder most of us develop a thing with needles?

As the syringe is likely to have formed the fear of needles I find it useful to compare this to my own practise because acupuncture is about as far removed from a syringe as its possible to get (in needling terms anyway).  There are a few clear differences that make it so.

  1. The size of the needles.  Syringes are intended to either put something in or take something out of the body.  For this purpose they need a hole.  By comparison, acupuncture needles are not hollow  and this means they can be much smaller.  How much smaller? Acupuncture needles are roughly the size of a human hair.  In fact, Acupuncture needles are so fine that most people don’t feel them being inserted.
  2. The purpose of the needling.  Syringes are basically used for two purposes, putting something into your body or taking something out.  If its putting something in that will generally be a drug or vaccine, foreign substances which your body may object to.  If its to take something out thats usually blood and will involve going into a vein.  Veins in the normal scheme of things aren’t meant to be messed around with and as a consequence the body has an alarm system built around them to let us know something bad is happening.  In other words, it will hurt because its meant to.  Your body is warning you of danger.  Acupuncture needles by contrast do neither of these things so the natural pain response isn’t pre-built into what we are doing. In rare cases there may occasionally be some discomfort but this is relative to what we are trying to achieve and always very carefully managed and controlled.
  3. The reason and consent for the needling:  It is an easily overlooked fact but generally speaking, although you consent to being needled in a regular medical environment, your choices and control over wether or not you give this consent will be limited by whatever is going on with you medically.  There could be some pretty high stakes involved and if a doctor breaks out the needles theres likely to be a lot less “choice” in the real sense of the word.  By contrast, the acupuncture treatment room its much different.  Although our patients are often feeling very desperate it is normally conscious choice that has brought you there in the first place.  In all but a handful of cases coming for treatment will be a decision you have made yourself following some research.  I live for the day when acupuncture becomes the first line treatment for problems like back pain but until it does I rely on people coming because they know how well it can work, not because its the only thing the world can offer them.  Psychologically this very small shift in conscious thought makes a huge difference in how you personally approach treatment.

This is all well and good but accepting that acupuncture needles are not the same as syringes, what do they feel like?  It can’t be pleasant surely?  Actually it can be.  Many patients report feelings of deep relaxation or warmth.  This video featuring my colleague and good friend Deb Conner explains in a little more detail.

 

I’ll leave you with a final thought.  Nearly all acupuncturists in the UK are self employed or in private practise.  Our patients chose, not only to come to see us, but also to keep coming back.  The results are part of this but I can assure you, if we were hurting people left right and centre I’m sure we’d be out of business very quickly.

Still not convinced?  Give me a call without pressure or obligation.

 

Battlefield Acupuncture

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Photo by Mr.TinDC on Flickr and used here with Creative Commons license.

Battlefield acupuncture is an auricular protocol designed in 2001 by Dr Richard Niemtzow, a US air force Colonel, as a treatment for pain relief.

The protocol uses up to 5 points in each ear, though treatment may not include all depending on the pain reduction reported.

It was first used to treat pain patients, including wounded service personnel, in 2008 and reported significant results.  Since then its popularity has grown and it is now being taught more widely to American armed forces as a cheap, easy and safe way of treating acute or chronic pain.

It has also gained in popularity further afield including the UK where this and other auricular acupuncture treatments are used as a stand alone microsystem or as an adjunct to traditional acupuncture.

Though I personally favour a treatment approach that addresses the underlying causes of illness, I am a big proponent of auricular therapy in the management of many symptoms, not just pain, and will often add it in to my standard treatment.

Reference

 

Amaro, J. (2009) Battlefield Acupuncture for the Clinical Practitioner. Acupuncture Today. 10(4)