Whether it is acute or chronic pain, we just do not like dealing with it! Pain affects our mood, our sleep and our ability to carry out our life. As a society, we are accustomed to treating our pain with "quick fixes" in the form of a Tylenol, Motrin, or in more severe cases, Oxycotin. These fixes do help in the moment, but they have a laundry list of side effects and ultimately do not address the reason we are experiencing pain in the first place. Acetaminophen, when taken over time can destroy our liver. NSAIDs, like Ibuprofen, are hard on our kidneys and when taken over time, lead to the destruction of our stomach lining causing ulcers and bleeding. Prescribed opiates are highly addictive, require higher and higher doses if used continually and in high doses, cause respiratory failure.
Chronic vs. Acute Pain
Chronic pain is defined as pain, regardless of intensity or frequency, that lasts for 6 months. Acute pain, as I’m sure you can guess, is pain that lasts for less than 6 months. Acute pain
usually involves an injury - a sprained ankle, concussion, pulled muscle, ect. Acute pain, if ignored, can turn into chronic pain. Chronic pain is rampant in our country, being the leading reason we don't show up for work.
Pain is considered to be either nociceptive (caused by inflamed or damaged tissue) or neuropathic (caused by damage or altered nervous system function). Whether it is nociceptive or neuropathic, chronic pain affects our brain's ability to process pain signals. People in chronic pain have HIGHER sensitivity to pain signals, experience structural changes in the areas of the brain that process pain, and are more likely to suffer from mood disorders such as anxiety, depression and fatigue. All of these factors cause a decrease in our natural painkillers, such as endorphins, and heighten our nervous system's sensitivity, causing even more pain.
Pain In The West
Western medicine treats the body as a machine with separable parts and pieces. If you are suffering from pain due to a blown out disc in your lumbar vertebrae, your doctor may recommend surgery. The thought being, if we remove the disc, we will relieve the pressure being put on the nerves and the pain will go away. Now in the short term, you might feel some major relief, but the root of the issue has not been addressed. Why was that disc
vulnerable to bulging in the first place? Is it inflammation from dietary choices, postural issues, weak abdominal muscles, an old knee injury, emotional trauma? The list goes on and on. Historically, doctors have been quick to reach for the prescription pad and prescribe opiates to help their patients manage pain. Today, the medical community is at a turning point - opiates are being prescribed less and less due to an emerging crisis. In 2012 alone, 259 million opiate prescriptions were given out to treat pain. Since 2013, the outrageous increase in the amount of painkillers flooding our medicine cabinets has been occurring alongside a 37% increase per year of heroin overdose. 80% of new heroin users started out using prescription painkillers.
The Cost of Being in Pain
A study published by Pfizer Inc. looked at medical records from 12,165 patients in chronic pain to find out what the overall cost per patient was. The study found that treating chronic pain costs some $32,000 per year. And this is just the financial cost - there are other major "costs" to an individual's lifestyle and relationships as well. It is all too common for those who suffer from chronic pain to also battle with depression, isolation, anxiety, emotional imbalances, insomnia, high blood pressure, diabetes and other health issues that make it even more difficult to achieve a healthy and prosperous life.
Pain In The East
Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) views your body as interconnected and whole. If you are suffering from a blown out disc in your lumbar vertebrae, there are likely a handful of factors
contributing to your feeling of pain. For example, if you are getting older, then your back may be getting weaker. If you are an athlete, then your muscles, tendons and ligaments may be overworked. If you sit at a desk all the time, then your posture is probably an issue. If you are super stressed, not sleeping well and not eating nutritious foods, then your body may be starving from the nourishment it needs. Most of the time, patients have a few factors in their life that are contributing to their pain condition. Acupuncture works by influencing Qi (chee) to help restore proper function of your physical, mental and emotional body. Qi is a difficult concept to define - the literal translation is something along the lines of "steam rising from rice as it cooks." With this image we can say Qi is a weightless substance (steam) arising
from a dense material (rice). It also implies the process of heating up and transforming. One way to describe Qi in relation to human health is: the activity, function, or warmth arising from our bodily systems. Every organ, tissue, thought, and emotion has its own Qi that either brings balance and health or imbalance and disease to the body.
A Better Solution
Acupuncture has received a lot of attention in the last few years when it comes to treating pain because it is able to treat the pain from all of it's different causes. The needling of acupuncture points has been shown to release opiate like natural chemicals in the body. Acupuncture calms and relaxes us so that our nervous system can take a break from being in hyper-alert mode. Acupuncture can have direct and structural effects on our muscles, joints, tendons and ligaments by increasing circulation, decreasing inflammation, improving stability and strength, and increasing proprioception. Injuries treated by acupuncture
recover more quickly. Acupuncture decreases stress and supports healthy moods.
Qi Stagnation is a phenomenon where the Qi (activity arising from the body) is inhibited in some way, shape or form. Qi stagnation happens when we have been injured, are stressed,
tired, depressed and just simply out of balance. It is THE cause of pain in TCM. Acupuncture works to treat pain because it helps to restore the proper movement and function of Qi.
The Power of Community Acupuncture in Treating Pain
Although acupuncture has seen a major rise in popularity, it still isn't fully integrated into the healthcare system. Most insurance companies don't cover acupuncture and costs of care can be steep - an average private treatment costs $100. Unlike the "quick fixes" I talked about earlier, acupuncture is a slow medicine. Results often require regular treatments over a period of 2-6 months or more depending on the nature of the complaint. Luckily, there is a growing field of acupuncturists who believe that acupuncture should be accessible and affordable for everyone.
Community acupuncture clinics, like Boise Acupuncture Co-op, charge on a sliding scale of $15-40. This makes regular treatments accessible for regular folks. In addition to all the benefits of acupuncture I highlighted earlier, we believe that the open, comfortable and communal environment offered by community acupuncture helps to lift the burden and isolation of chronic pain. We recognize all the literal and hidden costs of living with chronic pain and we do our very best to lower all the barriers to treatment that we possibly can.