How do we assess and manage pain with Acupuncture?

Pain seems to be a popular word in the English language…….

You may have heard the sayings: “A pain in the…”, or “It pains me to say”, or “no pain no gain”.

But, usually when I get a call from someone looking for Acupuncture, the saying usually goes something like:

“I have Back Pain, please help”.

Some people can even be under so much pressure at work or in other areas of life, that we can start to see a level of emotional pain, stress or frustration.

So what happens when you seek Acupuncture treatment with a Chinese Medicine Acupuncturist? Well, a common question a practitioner might ask is “What type of pain is it?”……”is it achy or sharp?”. 

Occasionally the questions we use can seem a bit odd, un-empathetic or detached. However, these are some of the questions we might ask to get down to the nitty gritty of pain and find out what it  REALLY is (different to ways of perceiving pain in this article), what caused it and what we need to do to manage it and make you feel better.

In Chinese Medicine and Acupuncture theory, whenever there is blockage in the body, or whenever the blood, oxygen and physiological fluids of the body are not moving properly or stop, there is pain.

You could almost go as far as saying that without blockage, there is no pain. 

Many that think scientifically about the body, have the understanding of the brain, the nerves and how our brain is the reason for pain. But in case you don’t, let’s just visit that scientific theory briefly.

Let’s say you step on a nail. The nail breaks the skin and penetrates the bottom plantar surface of the foot.

The first thing that will happen is that the proprioceptors in your foot will send a signal along the nerve axon,  travel up your leg, ascending into the spinal nerve root around the L4, L5 or S1 region,  up the spinal column to the neck, decussate or cross over at the base of the brain to the opposite side and move up  to the homunculus area (the brain’s image or map of the body), where input is received as the thought “my toe has been assaulted by something, a nail.”.

Surrounding that moment may have been nociceptor input/activation (pain receptors) sending a nerve impulse up the axon only to be intervened by the Autonomic nervous system attempting to take control over the foot before it makes the trip to the brain (as a time saver to beat the previous action)  providing a “reflex” action of immediately removing weight from that foot. The reflex might have come before you shouted an expletive word.

On a basic level, the 2 x nerves involved when we hurt ourselves are pain nerves and position nerves, along with the physiological cascade of biological responses that proceeds the tissue injury. So from a scientific perspective, the pain theory relies on nerves, receptors and a cascade of biomarkers.

But if we go back to the theory of Chinese Medicine, the injury and breaking of those tiny vessels in the foot has already caused some “blood stagnation”. That is, the blood spilling out and releasing immune cells to “mop up” the injured area and pooling up, causing what you can physically identify as redness, heat and swelling.

And given that this is happened right before a rather important olympic race you’ve been training years for, it’s all one big pain in the….

But, as far as Chinese Medicine it’s treatment is concerned, the location of pain and nature of pain is important. Treating the pain is dependent upon our diagnostic skills as an Acupuncture practitioner. And the treatment could involve anything from Acupuncture, Herbs (For more on herbs read here), Liniments, Moxibustion, Cupping to using small and brief applications of cold or applying pressure. Even TCM dietary perspectives/herbs can be brought in to provide added support of the body’s natural healing ability, to speed up the process of recovery. And get you back into training, or back to your best.

So when you get the question of “what type of pain is it?”, please don’t think we are being insensitive. We are only trying to apply the diagnostic principles of Acupuncture and Chinese Medicine, in an attempt to bring you a course of treatment (more on Acupuncture as a course of treatment in this article) that most accurately  reflects what you need for the particular injury or issue you are facing.

If you have any questions about an issue you are facing, feel free to reach out.

Chad Wuest

Chinese Medicine and Acupuncture Practitioner in Hobart TAS

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *