Chronic pain causes concern to countless patients, of all ages. The Western medicine treatment advice most commonly involves painkillers. Many patients, however prefer to not take these drugs long term, while others are just unable to take them, and so look for other methods to decrease or manage their symptoms. Acupuncture is one alternate way of not only relieving the pain, but also addressing the root cause of it.

The general definition of chronic pain is pain that lasts for three months or more. Common types of chronic pain in our modern society include: neck and shoulder pain, shoulder periarthritis, tennis elbow, lower back pain, sciatica, hand or knee pain. Dealing with long-term pain regularly affects a patient’s daily life and work, both in their ability to perform daily tasks, and enjoyment. This often results in a reduction in their quality of life, and regularly to anxiety and depression.

There are several common causes of chronic pain, these include Chronic strain (including obesity and poor lifestyle habits), degenerative changes (including osteoarthritis and arteriosclerosis)

Chronic strain:

Human joints works similar to machines, and long-term wear and tear can cause damage to different structures in a joint. Among them, articular cartilage is the most vulnerable to damage. After excessive cartilage wear, cartilage cells decrease, the cartilage becomes thin, and elasticity decreases until the cartilage is torn. Wear may also cause bone spurs to develop from the edges of the joints, usually resulting in pain.

Obesity is a common cause of chronic strain. Due to greater body weight, the load on the bones and joints are increased in those who are overweight or obese. This increased strain on the bones and joints, leads to the break down of joint cartilage and increased bony growths (spurs) in and at the joints, accelerating the aging of the joints.

An unhealthy lifestyle is closely related to the onset of pain. People who don’t exercise much, those who have a sedentary work posture, those who have an unhealthy diet with little fruit and vegetables, those who eat too much, as well as people who stand and sit and work in incorrect or awkward postures, all have a greater chance of developing chronic pain.

Degenerative changes:

As we age, the physiological functions of various parts of the body also deteriorate. When people reach the age of 30, their organs and tissues are fully developed and mature, and they begin to age from then on.. Aging is considered a degenerative change. Initially, slight degenerative changes in the body are often not noticed, but as time goes on, the degenerative changes in the body are becoming more obvious and more serious.

The degenerative changes that occur in joints due to wear and tear, result in Osteoarthritis. Commonly, athletes and manual workers suffer from osteoarthritis, due to the physical pressures they put on their joints, Osteoarthritis, on the other hand, is also common in people who engage in office work, particularly if they have poor posture, or incorrect desk set-up, and also those who lack exercise.
Arteriosclerosis is an important factor leading to systemic aging, and bone and joints are no exception. With arteriosclerosis, the heart and brain are insufficiently supplied with blood and nutrients. At the same time, blood supply to other tissues and organs of the body is reduced, hence blood and nutrients to the synovium of the joint is reduced, and the articular cartilage ages and degenerates.

Mechanism of pain in traditional Chinese medicine:

Chinese medicine believes that pain is caused by the incompatibility of Qi and Blood in meridians. A classic text states, one is in pain when blocked (ie the Qi) or one is in pain when insufficient nourishment (ie the blood). This means that two types of situations are commonly seen. The first situation can be seen when the body is invaded by exogenous factors (such as wind, coldness, summer heat or dampness) or trauma, to cause blocked meridians and dysfunction of the organs. Whereas the second situation can be seen when one has improper eating and living habits, which cause dysfunction of organs, thereby lack of Qi and Blood in meridians, and hence lack of nourishment in muscles and tendons.

Acupuncture can effectively relieve pain from the following several different treatment principles:

  • Expel exogenous factors and eliminate the coldness or dampness
  • Invigorate Qi and Blood, thereby open up the meridians
  • Regulate Yin and Yang and make up for deficiency

Recent studies have shown that acupuncture can stimulate the body to secrete natural analgesic substances. This substance is similar to morphine, so it can achieve pain relief without the risk of potential addiction.