Maybe you’ve been popping aspirin for your aching back for years, or your mother’s arthritic knees don’t seem to improve with medication. It’s frustrating that with all the medical technology available, so many of us still suffer from chronic pain.
Maybe it’s time to consider acupuncture.
While the thought of letting someone tap tiny needles into various spots on your body might make you a little queasy, the procedure does provide pain relief for a lot of people. The ancient Chinese tradition is based on the premise that Qi, or energy, flows through the body along pathways called meridians; when a person’s Qi is blocked, pain and disease result. By stimulating specific points along the meridians, according to this Eastern perspective, acupuncture restores the flow of Qi.
While suspicious Western doctors have been unable to locate this mysterious Qi with their state-of-the-art instruments, research supports acupuncture as an effective tool against many kinds of chronic pain, such as osteoarthritis, lower back pain, menstrual cramps and migraine headaches. It is believed that the needles, inserted at specific points, stimulate nerves and so release the body’s own endorphins and opioids, providing pain relief. The process has also shown to dilate blood vessels and thus improve blood circulation.
So, centuries after people first started deriving benefits from acupuncture, Western medical leaders are giving the procedure a tentative nod of approval. There are about 6,500 licensed acupuncturists in the United States, according to WebMD, and acupuncture needles are regulated as medical instruments by the FDA. It’s even becoming more common for acupuncture treatment to be covered by health insurance for many conditions.
While acupuncture can’t repair a degenerated spinal disk or joints that have been physically altered by arthritis, the process reduces the swelling and inflammation that can compress the nerves. Since the physical damage is not repaired, pain does often recur, and so follow-up treatments are necessary.
If you think acupuncture might be worth a try, talk with your doctor and ask for a referral. That one step might put you or someone you love on the road toward pain relief.
Heather L. Jones is a freelance writer and editor who lives in Davis, Calif.