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Treating pain is probably what acupuncture is best known for, and with good reason. It's one of the most researched areas of acupuncture, and pain related conditions are one of the main reasons people seek acupuncture treatment.
Recently, NICE (The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence) published a new guideline for chronic pain and includes acupuncture as one of the four recommended treatments, alongside exercise, psychological therapies and antidepressant drugs.
Common conditions that would qualify are fibromyalgia, myofascial pain (i.e. in the muscles and surrounding connective tissue), chronic neck pain and chronic pelvic pain, as well as many others.
NICE considered a number of treatments in creating this guideline including opioids, anti-inflammatories, paracetamol, benzodiazepines and gabapentinoids. None of these were found to have evidence of benefit for chronic pain and there are possible harms associated with their use. Acupuncture was found to be superior to both sham and usual care for pain according to the 32 studies reviewed by NICE.
BAcC accredited acupuncturists, are particularly well qualified for treating the wide spectrum of symptoms seen in patients with chronic primary pain conditions due to the degree level training and wide scope of practice.
Some of the most common pain conditions I see in clinic are:
Acupuncture may help relieve chronic pain by stimulating nerves located in muscles and other tissues, which leads to release of endorphins and other neurohumoral factors (e.g. neuropeptide Y, serotonin), and changes the processing of pain in the brain and spinal cord (Pomeranz 1987, Han 2004, Zhao 2008, Zhou 2008, Lee 2009, Cheng 2009);
Systematic reviews suggest that acupuncture and ear acupuncture are useful adjunctive treatments for post-operative pain management (Sun 2008; Usinchenko 2008).
Several recent randomised controlled trials have found acupuncture and electroacupuncture to reduce post-operative pain, the use of patient-controlled analgesia (opioids), and post-operative nausea and vomiting (Salmeddini 2010; Larson 2010; Parthasarathy 2009; Wu 2009; Grube 2009; Wong 2006).
Research has shown that acupuncture is significantly better than no treatment and at least as good as (if not better than) standard medical care for back pain (Witt 2006; Haake 2007; Cherkin 2009; Sherman 2009a). It appears to be particularly useful as an adjunct to conventional care, for patients with more severe symptoms and for those wishing to avoid analgesic drugs (Sherman 2009a, 2009b; Lewis 2010).
It may help back pain in pregnancy (Ee 2008) and work-related back pain, with fewer work-days lost (Weidenhammer 2007; Sawazaki 2008).
Numerous large, well conducted studies in the last 10 years have shown that it is more effective than no treatment or usual care for chronic back pain, osteoarthritis, or headache (Sherman 2009).
There is also evidence from randomised controlled trials and systematic reviews that suggests acupuncture may reduce chronic pain in myofascial syndrome (Shen 2009), chronic shoulder problems (Lathia 2009), chronic prostatitis/chronic pelvic pain syndrome (Lee 2009) and tennis elbow (Trihn 2004).
Acupuncture may help in the treatment of cystitis by reducing inflammation, by promoting release of vascular and immunomodulatory factors (Kim 2008, Kavoussi 2007, Zijstra 2003);reducing pain and swelling (Lorenzini 2010)
improving bladder irritation by inhibition of capsaicin-sensitive C-fibre activation (Hino 2010).
Acupuncture provides pain relief by stimulating nerves located in muscles and other tissues, leading to release of endorphins and other neurohumoral factors and changes the processing of pain in the brain and spinal cord (Pomeranz 1987; Zhao 2008).
Acupuncture reduces inflammation by promoting release of vascular and immunomodulatory factors (Kim 2008, Kavoussi 2007;Zijlstra 2003).
Acupuncture improves muscle stiffness and joint mobility by increasing local microcirculation (Komori 2009), which aids dispersal of swelling and bruising.
Acupuncture can reduce the use of medication for back complaints (Thomas 2006).
Acupuncture can improve the outcome when added to conventional treatments such as rehabilitation exercises (Ammendolia 2008; Yuan 2008).