Pain management and healing with acupuncture | TahoeDailyTribune.com

Pain management and healing with acupuncture

Jessica Cerasoli

Asian woman getting acupuncture therapy and having needles placed in her back

The interpretation and experience of pain is an individually unique process that depends upon the physical and emotional circumstances surrounding the incidence and the extent of damage from the injury.

Understanding what pain is and how it shows up in the body and mind is a very important piece in the healing process. In general, the sensation of pain is a primitive response that in most cases is intended to be temporary in order to alert the body of present, or potential, tissue damage.

Commonly, with chronic pain, there is no longer continued tissue damage although the pain response or signaling continues. Acupuncture can help manage pain by influencing our perception of pain, or our brain's response to a painful stimulus. It can disrupt this signaling that is no longer needed or helpful in the healing process.

Acupuncture first gained recognition in America after a journalist traveled to China to report on Richard Nixon's trip there and was treated for appendicitis while in the country. He was treated with acupuncture for the pain, both during the procedure and post-operatively. He healed well and upon returning home his experience became public knowledge.

Since this event occurred, acupuncture has slowly become recognized as an effective way to manage pain.

How acupuncture can help chronic pain

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Acupuncture is just one branch of Chinese Medicine that can be very effective at treating both acute and chronic pain. It assists the body's natural healing process by balancing yin and yang energies so that Qi can flow freely. When yin and yang are not balanced, Qi, or energy, is unable to flow freely and hence the blood is unable to flow easily, leading to pain and inflammation.

Qi can be likened to oxygen, our vital energy source, which is required for all life processes including adequate healing.

From a western physiological perspective, acupuncture helps to regulate the parasympathetic (rest and digest) and sympathetic (fight or flight) nervous system response, by encouraging the circulation of oxygen and nutrient-rich blood flow to the area of injury, while also encouraging lymphatic drainage away from the site of the injury and any inflammation.

By regulating the nervous system, acupuncture has an influence on the way the brain relates to and processes pain. It encourages the release of our own endogenous opioids, or endorphins, that are responsible for the brain's interpretation of pain. Once these endorphins are released and attach to specific opioid receptors in the brain they provide analgesia (pain relief), a sense of euphoria, sedation and overall sense of well being.

Overall, acupuncture can help to increase vascular flow to the site of injury, increase drainage to help decrease inflammation, increase cell metabolism to repair tissue, and encourage the release of endorphins or endogenous opioids to help with managing pain.

What are the options?

There are numerous different acupuncture techniques and styles that are effective at managing pain. Acupuncture with electrical stimulation can help to reduce healing time and decrease pain by desensitizing the nervous system and enhancing the effects of acupuncture. Another technique that can assist tissue repair is Prolo-therapy with acupuncture (no injections). Pain can be the result of an acute sprain or a lingering injury that has created structural changes involving joints, tendons and ligaments.

Prolo-therapy with acupuncture can be used to strengthen laxity of ligaments and encourage proliferation of tendons and ligaments. Another acupuncture technique that is very effective at helping with chronic and acute pain is trigger point therapy.

When there are tight muscles they can be triggered, sending a signal to the nervous system telling the muscle to relax so it will not tear and put pressure on the surrounding ligaments and tendons. The result is a relaxed muscle and diminished pain.

Other adjunct therapies frequently used by acupuncturist to help with pain management and the healing process are cupping, guasha and moxa.

If you are suffering from pain call us for a brief 15 minute consult for further questions about acupuncture or to decide if it is the right treatment option for you, or we encourage you to discuss your treatment options in more depth with your physician.

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About the Author

Find Jessica Cerasoli, LAc, RN, at Elevate Wellness Center. Call us at 530-541 WELL (9355), or visit us at 2034 Lake Tahoe Blvd., South Lake Tahoe.