One Physician’s Perspective
- What is Acupuncture?
- What Does Research Say About Acupuncture?
- How Does Acupuncture Stop Pain?
- Dr. Brown’s Testimony
What is Acupuncture?
Acupuncture is a form of alternative medicine where needles as thin as hair are inserted into the body superficially. The purpose of acupuncture is to decrease pain or symptoms.
Acupuncture has been used for over 3,000 years, originating in China, based on written texts describing the practice.
As the ability to travel expanded, so did the practice of acupuncture. It was introduced to European and American cultures as early as the 19th century.
For a while, people thought acupuncture was a sham. However, with technological advancements allowing scientists to study more about acupuncture mechanisms, we now know that it positively alters how your body functions (your body’s physiology).
What Does Research Say About Acupuncture?
One study with nearly 18,000 patients showed acupuncture was more effective than standard care and sham treatments.
In January 2020, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) approved coverage for acupuncture to treat chronic low back pain (up to 12 treatments in 90 days, with an additional eight treatments if improvement is demonstrated, and not to exceed 20 treatments annually).
The CMS defined low back pain as:
- Lasting 12 weeks or longer
- Nonspecific, in that it has no identifiable systemic cause (i.e., not associated with metastatic, inflammatory, or infectious, etc. disease)
- Not associated with surgery
- Not associated with pregnancy
How Does Acupuncture Stop Pain?
You are an electrical being. Your nervous system is an intricate network of electrical wiring, allowing your body’s systems to function without thinking and at will.
Your nervous system also processes information from the outside world and responds accordingly.
Pain is complex; a series of events can signal to your brain that there is pain. The first event starts with tissue damage. A minor injury, such as a superficial bruise on the arm after being struck by a softball, can trigger pain. Additionally, a slipped disc in your back that remains out of place and presses on a nerve as it exits the spine can also trigger the pain cascade.
When your brain receives a pain signal, your body sends an army of repair cells to the pain site. These repair cells have potent chemicals designed to remove damaged tissue and set the stage for healing.
There is one problem, however. The powerful repair chemicals often irritate your nerves. The irritated nerves send electrical signals back to your brain, and we process these signals as pain. A vicious pain cycle is initiated.
Here is where acupuncture makes an impact. When applied near the injury site, acupuncture can dampen the signal sent to the brain by irritated nerves. This results in reduced pain.
Dr Brown’s Testimony
Does acupuncture work for treating pain? As a practitioner of acupuncture trained in Western medicine, I must say a resounding yes.
I integrate acupuncture into my pain practice, focusing on non-surgical and non-opioid pain management. My patients typically are intolerant of medications or are looking for other means to decrease their pain, in order to return to their routine activities.
I fondly remember many of my patients. However, I vividly recall a patient who had debilitating lower back pain after sustaining compression fractures to two lumbar vertebrates. Despite having surgery, his pain persisted.
Standing before me was a man bent over in pain, barely able to walk or stand. His wife showed me pictures of them on healthier days, traveling through Europe. His current state was a far cry from the man he once was.
After about six acupuncture treatments, his pain level significantly decreased. He reported feeling so well that he was able to clean his garage—a story confirmed by his wife.
If you are at a crossroads and not sure how you will manage your pain. If nothing else seems to be working, consider acupuncture.
A study found that the number of actively licensed acupuncturists as of January 1, 2018, in the U.S. was 37,886. A small percentage, like myself, are physicians who are dually trained in acupuncture. So, check your local listings; relief may be closer than you think.
Janice C. Brown, MD, is a Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation specialist and Life Coach trained in Acupuncture and Functional Medicine. She not only helps people manage pain but helps them get back to an active life.
Copyright: myObMD, Inc | Editor: Jennifer Abayowa and Dayna Smith, MD | Reviewed October 30, 2023.
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