Acupuncture is the stimulation, by insertion of needles, of specific points on the body which have the ability to alter various biochemical and physiological conditions. Acupuncture stimulates the release of endorphins, which are the body’s natural pain-relieving neurohormones. Acupuncture affects the functioning of the hormonal system, promotes a decrease in inflammation, increased circulation and relief from pain.
From the classical textbook of the Huang Di Nei Jing comes a common Chinese saying – “Bu tong ze tong, Tong ze bu tong” which roughly translates to: “If there is no free flow, there is pain; if there is free flow, there is no pain.” This statement embodies the TCM approach to treating pain. Essentially what it means is that if everything (qi, blood) is flowing in the body without issues, you will not experience pain. However, if there is an obstruction–-whether complete or partial, physical or energetic–that does not allow the proper flow, pain will result.
Chinese Medicine will classify pain based on:
- the quality (sharp, dull)
- location on the body
- length of time experienced
- how often it is experienced
- the pain modality (with link to what aggravates or improves it)
By using this method a headache can be diagnosed in several different ways depending on whether it is felt sharply at the base of the skull, dully on the temples, or heavy around the entire head.
Meridians traverse the entire body and by using acupuncture to promote proper flow through the meridians, treating pain can involve the use of both local and distal acupuncture points. An example of this is using acupuncture points on the arm to treat leg pain or points on the foot to treat a headache. There are many combinations of points that can be used to treat similar problems so it is very common that selection of these points will differ between patients as well as between the treatments of an individual. Depending on the patient and the type of pain, a practitioner may also use tui na (Chinese massage techniques) or cupping to decrease pain by increasing flow.