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When it comes to pain, one of the best treatments naturopathic doctors can offer is acupuncture. Safe, effective, and far less daunting than it sounds, there is very little reason not to try acupuncture for pain.

Pain: It’s the Worst

When you’re in pain, little else matters. Rationality goes out the window. The the past means nothing, the future doesn’t exist. All you know or care about is this one ultimate truth: it hurts.

I know – I’ve been in pain. I’ve popped pills that I swore I would never touch again, and to heck with the consequences. I’ve made ridiculous promises to God, if he would only relieve it. And yes, I’ll admit, I’ve wished for death to come to me swiftly, in order to escape it.

If I could do acupuncture on myself, I might be able to avoid these exercises in futility.

Acupuncture: Effective Pain Relief

If there is one thing we know about acupuncture, it’s that it can relieve pain. From the chronic pain of arthritis, to the acute pain of soldiers injured on the battlefield, acupuncture has a proven pain-relieving effect.

Acupuncture can often reduce pain immediately, as with battlefield acupuncture that is used for soldiers in emergency situations. But unlike analgesics, acupuncture doesn’t just have a numbing effect. It works with your body to help it tackle the root cause of your pain. This means that acupuncture can speed the healing of acute injuries like sprains and strains, as well as reduce the severity of chronic conditions.

Acupuncture can be helpful for:

  • knee & shoulder injuries
  • low back pain
  • neck strain
  • arthritis
  • tendonitis
  • menstrual cramps
  • migraines
  • fibromyalgia
  • nerve pain
  • old injuries

Acupuncture Safety

Many conventional therapies for pain have side effects. We all know that opioids can become addictive and lose their effectiveness over time. Over-the-counter medications such as Tylenol and Advil can cause rebound headaches, and make arthritis pain worse by increasing joint damage. Chronic use can contribute to leaky gut syndrome, stomach ulcers, and liver failure. Overdoses of acetaminophen (Tylenol) cause over 450 deaths per year in the US alone.

Acupuncture can cause some side effects as well, but these are minor by comparison. Needles can cause small bruises or minor bleeding (usually just a drop). Since acupuncture uses your body’s own energy to stimulate healing, you can faint if you are already exhausted. Very rarely, a needle can hit a bone, causing pain, or puncture an organ – usually with little or no consequences.

The Acupuncture Experience

Most people tolerate acupuncture extremely well. It can be nerve-wracking at first – it does involve needles, after all. But the needles used are extremely small, and many people don’t even feel them going in. Once all your needles are placed, most patients find the treatment relaxing. Some fall asleep.

Needles are generally left in place for 15 or 30 minutes. During this time, you can relax and remain quiet, with the help of soft music. For some patients, this is a good time to discuss mental and emotional issues with your naturopathic doctor.

During and after acupuncture, most patients feel a noticeable reduction in their pain, which can last for hours or days. After a full treatment regimen of 4-8 sessions, many people’s pain is permanently reduced or eliminated.

You may also experience other effects, such as increased thirst or hunger, food cravings, tiredness, or even a desire to go outdoors or engage in a specific activity. Don’t fight it! According to Asian Medicine theory, these effects are part of your body’s attempts to resolve the condition your acupuncture is treating. Your body is designed to heal itself, but it may require sleep, fluids, movement, fresh air, sunshine, or specific nutrients in order to accomplish this.

To further prepare for your acupuncture appointment, I recommend reading this article.

Types of Acupuncture for Pain

Conventional acupuncture is often very effective for pain – especially back, joint, and menstrual pain. Local points are meant to bring energy (Qi) to the area. Constitutional points may be located in other areas, and are used to treat your specific Asian medicine diagnosis. Chiropractors will often utilize local points, while Naturopaths will usually use both.

Some people respond better to ear acupuncture or acupressure. This is often true for acute pain, as well as severe chronic pain, such as fibromyalgia. It can also be very effective for headaches and migraines. Ear tacks (tiny needles that stay in place for several days) or ear seeds can provide greater pain relief when added to regular acupuncture.


Who can administer acupuncture?

Trained professionals, such as Acupuncturists, some Chiropractors, and all Naturopathic Doctors, can administer acupuncture.

How long does it take to work?

Acupuncture usually has a slight pain-relieving effect immediately. For chronic conditions, it usually takes 4-8 weekly treatments to see maximum, lasting benefit.

Who can benefit from acupuncture for pain?

Anyone suffering from chronic or acute pain may benefit. It is especially helpful for back and neck pain, shoulder pain, knee pain, menstrual pain, and headaches.

Who should not use acupuncture?

In order to receive acupuncture, you need to be able to remain still. Therefore, it may not be the best option for babies, very young children, or people who experience uncontrollable spasms.

When should I not receive acupuncture?

Acupuncture uses your body’s own energy. Therefore, you should not come to your acupuncture appointment with your energy depleted by a lack of sleep, food, or water, or by excessive activity. You should also not receive acupuncture while intoxicated, under the influence of drugs, or while hung-over.

Will it hurt?

When acupuncture needles are placed, most people feel a very small pinch. After that, you may not feel the needles at all, or may experience a dull ache or heaviness at the point. Occasionally, a needle may get a little close to a nerve, causing a sharp or shooting pain – if this doesn’t go away quickly, your naturopath will remove the needle and replace it in a slightly different position.

How should I prepare for acupuncture?

See Preparing for Your Acupuncture Appointment for more details.

What other treatments can help with pain?

Your naturopath may recommend other physical treatments for your pain, such as hydrotherapy, massage, or chiropractic manipulation. Anti-inflammatory herbs can also be very helpful in many situations.

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