“Why does everything hurt now?”
This is the question I commonly hear from patients who are seeking acupuncture for chronic pain.
Their pain typically begins in one part of their body; however, when the pain has persisted for a long time – usually for at least 3 months or more – then the pain may have become chronic.
With time, the pain has not only not gone away, it has started to take over the rest of their body and seemingly the rest of their lives. This progression may be due to changes in the central nervous system that can occur with chronic pain, called central sensitization.
What are the symptoms of central sensitization?
When everything hurts: Little touches, like a handshake or a hug from a loved one, may even feel painful (Latremoliere, 2009).
When pain feels amplified to a higher intensity than normal for that type of injury or condition (Tick et al, 2018).
Anxiety, depression, insomnia:
These symptoms can occur with chronic pain, when parts of the brain – the amygdala and hippocampus – are affected by central sensitization (Mansour et al, 2014).
What are some chronic pain conditions that often include central sensitization?
- Tension headache
- Temporomandibular joint (TMJ) dysfunction and pain
- Low back pain
- Rheumatoid arthritis
- Pelvic pain
- Neuropathic pain (trigeminal neuralgia, post-herpetic neuralgia)
- Chronic fatigue syndrome
- Ehlers-Danlos syndrome
Why is chronic pain so challenging?
The symptoms described above are often distressing in themselves, but it’s even more distressing when people with chronic pain and their loved ones do not understand what is happening to them.
Friends or family may suggest that the pain levels are exaggerated.
Based on the injury itself or the diagnosis, they may even agree that their pain levels shouldn’t be so high. Patients often begin to question themselves and feel frustrated with their perceived failure to improve.
Research has shown that pain biomarkers are elevated in central sensitization; however, – patients are not imagining nor are they exaggerating the high pain levels (Akinci et al, 2015).
How can acupuncture help with chronic pain conditions?
Acupuncture is a safe, effective therapy for chronic pain.
In a patient data meta-analysis published in the Journal of Pain, it was concluded that acupuncture is an effective treatment for chronic musculoskeletal pain, headache, and osteoarthritis pain and that a referral to acupuncture is a reasonable treatment option for any type of chronic pain (Vickers, et al, 2018).
Researchers have identified at least six different analgesic mechanisms through which acupuncture reduces pain. These mechanisms may potentially interfere with the central sensitization feature of chronic pain and lead to relief (Lai et al, 2019).
Traditional acupuncture is a whole person treatment modality
Acupuncturists look at the whole person with all of their symptoms together – including those that would be divided into either mental health or physical health categories by modern biomedicine.
As a result, we can treat the root cause of the symptoms for quicker relief.
Lara McQuade, L. Ac. is a pain specialist at Lokahi Acupuncture. With a strong background in chronic pain conditions, she specializes in headache, neck pain and back pain.
If you would like to schedule a free online consultation with her, click here and follow the link.
“I have been in practice for 18 years, with a specialty in the treatment of patients with chronic pain conditions for the last 13 years. I am so grateful to have found acupuncture to give relief and comfort to people with chronic pain in so many ways and with so few side effects. In almost every case of chronic pain I have found acupuncture to be worth trying, either on its own or as part of an integrative team care plan. There is just such low risk and such high potential for benefit.” -Lara
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