Physical pain is a common occurrence for many Americans; in fact, a national survey found that more than one-quarter of U.S. adults had recently experienced some sort of pain lasting more than a day. In addition to conventional treatments, such as over-the-counter and prescription medications, many people use acupuncture to successfully relieve their pain.
Pain is a feeling triggered in the nervous system. It may be sharp or dull, off-and-on or steady, localized (such as back pain) or all over (such as muscle aches from the flu). Sometimes, pain alerts us to injuries and illnesses that need attention. Although pain usually goes away once the underlying problem is addressed, it can last for weeks, months, or even years. Chronic pain may be due to an ongoing condition (such as arthritis) or to abnormal activity in pain-sensing regions of the brain, or the cause may not be known.
To relieve their pain, many people take over-the-counter medications—either acetaminophen or nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs, including aspirin, naproxen, and ibuprofen). Stronger medications, including NSAIDs in higher dosages and narcotics, are available by prescription only. The long term application of drugs to the body is often addicting and harmful to critical body organs.
Acupuncture, among the oldest healing practices in the world, is part of traditional Chinese medicine. Acupuncture practitioners stimulate specific points on the body—most often by inserting thin needles through the skin. In traditional Chinese medicine theory, this regulates the flow of qi (vital energy) along pathways known as meridians.
- People use acupuncture for various types of pain. Back pain and sciatica is the most common, followed by joint pain, neck pain, and migraine headaches.
- Acupuncture has been studied for its efficacy in alleviating many kinds of pain for many years. There are promising findings in some conditions, such as chronic low-back pain and osteoarthritis of the knee. The National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM) sponsors a wide range of acupuncture research.
- Acupuncture is considered safe when performed correctly by a licensed professional.
- In traditional Chinese medical theory, acupuncture regulates the flow of qi (vital energy) through the body. Research to test scientific theories about how acupuncture works to relieve pain is still on going, but there is no question that it works.