One of my favorite things about clinical practice is watching the theory come alive in patients. Recently I treated a young woman who had had multiple car accidents that had left her in chronic pain at the base of her spine and into her tailbone. It affected her daily life in that she wasn’t able to exercise, hike or enjoy other outdoor activities without paying for it severely for days afterward. She sought out the use of acupuncture to relieve chronic pain and to hopefully regain some order in her life.
I wasn’t the only one treating her. She was also being treated by other alternative modalities and was seeing results. Acupuncture works so well on it’s own AND in conjunction with other therapies such as chiropractic and massage. What I hear time and time again from people who are already under the care of one of these other two is that their practitioner can go further with their treatment because something has opened up.
Acupuncture expedites healing.
When we began she was very needle phobic and I could only do one type of treatment on her for the first 2 months. I reluctantly agreed. I was hesitant that this would even be effective. A typical treatment with me is 80-100% new points each time, depending on how the person shows up. This doesn’t mean we treat something different each time, we just select different points according to how the person is emerging at that given moment in time. For example, if we are treating the Liver, I may select a Liver point on the foot one treatment and one around the knee the next. If this doesn’t make sense, don’t worry, that’s part of the art of Chinese Medicine. There is method to the madness. None-the-less I was reluctant to treat her with the same points time and time again.
This particular treatment, and really all acupuncture treatments, have a direct effect on the Nervous system. It helps to vent excessive energy or tension which is typical in a nervous system whose ability to modulate itself is affected – a factor in chronic pain.
During the course of our treatments she had seen multiple specialist who had told her that her nerves were stuck in a firing pattern. From this, she began looking into ways she could rewire her neural pathways to stop the pain cycle. This was a huge realization for her and I encouraged her strongly to persist with this through meditation and visualization. I also reminded her that this was how acupuncture helps relieve chronic pain, it rewires neural pathways in the brain and the body.
There is an excellent BBC documentary called the Science of Acupuncture that shows a person getting a functional MRI (fMRI) while having acupuncture and in particular experiencing the sensation of De Qi. De Qi is the sensation you experience once the acupuncture needle has been inserted and connected with your own Qi – vital energy. It can present as an aching, dull, tingling, sore, heavy or distended feeling.
From the fMRI you could literally see the brain patterns shift, from one single point. I take all science with a grain of salt and certainly don’t treat it like it’s the be all and end all, especially when dealing with Acupuncture. But this was really cool to see. The fMRI showed a change in the deeper regions of the brain – the limbic system – which affects our experience of chronic pain. Click here to watch the documentary. The part about the Functional MRI is at time 47:00. The sound is off a little, it was the best I could find.
About a month into treatment we had to take a hiatus and when I saw her again 3 weeks later, she said she had really missed the acupuncture and couldn’t believe how much it had been helping relieve the pain. This was a pivotal moment for me. The acupuncture was working via the nervous system and was creating new pathways and healing her body out of the chronic pain cycle, even with the same generalized treatment. I have seen hundreds of patients been relieved of pain from acupuncture, but never quite like this.
Acupuncture works to relieve chronic pain and acute pain. And it works just by activating points along the body. The question now is, with different treatments would different areas of the brain be affected and would the rate at which the change occurred be expedited? According to the thousands of years of empirical evidence the answer to this is yes. If this fMRI showed so much affect from one point and the same treatment over and over affected this woman so profoundly, imagine what is possible with a skilled practitioner, someone who understands the art of combining acupuncture points and how to needle them properly.
It’s an exciting time to be part of such a creative and interpretive medicine and to see how science is slowly starting to catch onto the infinite benefits of acupuncture and Chinese Medicine.
Are you in Chronic Pain? Here are 6 ways you can help yourself:
1) Get Acupuncture – This should be fairly obvious after reading this Blog. Not only does Acupuncture balance the physical body it helps to balance the brain and the way the brain reacts to chronic pain.
2) Meditate – Meditation is being widely researched and becoming widely known for its pain relieving effects. It’s similar to Acupuncture in that people have been practicing and known of these benefits for thousands of years. Science is just starting to catch up. For more information on some of the research here is a wiki article.
3) Visualization – It is important to visualize your body in a state of health. My favorite way to do this is through theta Brainwave meditation. You can check out this general body meditation I created here.
4) Exercise within your limits. Don’t push it too much, respect your body, but also keep your body moving. Find that edge and work with it. Regular exercise keeps the Qi and Blood flowing and also helps the brain stay plastic, meaning that it keeps the brain changeable.
5) Eat foods that help to calm the nerves such as:
b.Berries Research shows that they help to lower cortisol levels which help to mediate the stress response. See this article for more on how they do this information.
c.Fish that are high in Omega 3’s such as
d.Herbal teas such as:
6) Avoid foods that stimulate such as caffeine as well as foods that drastically disrupt homeostasis and cause dehydration such as alcohol and processed sugars.
If you have any questions about Acupunctures effectiveness in treating your chronic pain please do not hesitate to contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org
With Love from Kelowna, BC,