Traditional Chinese Medicine and Acupuncture effectiveness In Treating Chronic Pain Two of the most frequently asked questions about acupuncture and Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) is “Can it help with my pain? and “Will it help me reduce or tolerate medications better?”
In dealing with chronic pain many people have typically exhausted most conventional options like surgery, therapy and medications and still find that their pain is not well controlled. As time goes on people find that chronic pain begins to creep into many aspects of their lives. It’s easy to become frustrated, anxious or depressed. Sleep is often limited and digestion and long term nutrition can be compromised leading to fatigue and irritability, decreasing mental focus, lost time in important relationships or activities. A person can become overwhelmed and dispirited. TCM and acupuncture have an extraordinarily rich history dating back 5000 years with more than 2000 years of clinical evidence-based literature. Acupuncture is probably the most famous modality in TCM but it is only one of many remarkable strategies and techniques used in this complex medicine. Today over one third of the world’s population uses TCM is a primary medicine. The World Health Organization has chosen TCM among others for worldwide propagation to meet healthcare needs in the 21st century.
In TCM no two treatment strategies are the same. Just as each person is a unique individual each treatment strategy in TCM is uniquely tailored to fit each persons specific needs.. While two patients may have identical Western diagnoses and similar treatments, they would have different diagnoses and very different treatment strategies in TCM.
TCM considers all things in context. A living being is made up of constantly changing interdependent systems and is always interacting with the world around them. So TCM looks at patterns of harmony and disharmony. This elegant and complex medicine often uses concepts that are initially a little hard for Westerners to understand, because they are not meant to be quantifiable but qualitative. This terminology is often metaphorical and is used like threads in a tapestry to weave together many different types of dynamic information. Concepts like Yin and Yang which is the foundation of all theory in TCM can loosely be translated as matter and energy. One of the hardest fundamental concepts to understand and translate is Qi (pronounced “chee”) this can be thought of as “bioelectric-energy”, living energy or simply a functional process. In Traditional Japanese Medicine the same principle is referred to as “Ki” in Traditional Korean Medicine as “Gi” and Indian Ayurvedic Medicine as “Prana”.
Qi has many different functions in the body. For example it can involve the process of respiration as in Lung Qi or the immune system which is Wei Qi. Qi also describes energy moving through special pathways called meridians in the body and is accessed via the acupuncture points The smoothness or efficiency of this Qi flow correlates directly to our general health and ability to recover from illness or injury. Blockages or weakness of Qi creating patterns of disharmony in not only affect us physically but emotionally as well. There are many ways to treat these imbalances the most famous of which is acupuncture. Other TCM techniques include: acupressure, cupping, Gua Sha,, Tui Na (a specialized form of body work related to the meridians), herbs and nutritional education as well as mind-body integration techniques like Five Element Theory, Qi Gong and meditation.
The acupuncturist in TCM has a very unique and sophisticated way of assessing conditions in context and addressing the patient as a whole. Many patients are surprised to find there is an extensive evaluation and an exam initially. Like a beautiful mosaic or complex jigsaw puzzle there are many pieces to organize and assemble before treatment can begin. There are questions that are related directly to the patient’s main complaint but many that seem very unusual. Things like: stress levels, bowel and bladder issues, a preference or aversion to heat or cold, hormonal conditions, difficulty with types of weather, appetite level and food cravings are among some of the questions. The acupuncturist also looks the patient’s tongue (which is like a map of the body) and takes their pulse (which relates to the meridians) this is then correlated with all the questions asked as well as other information to make a TCM diagnosis.
The focus of treatment in TCM is to find the root cause for ill health or pain. One of the oldest strategies in TCM is actually known as “root and branch treatment” meaning to treat the symptoms effectively, one must find and treat the cause first. Patients often notice when they begin treatment that not only does their pain decrease but they often find sleep, digestion, mental clarity and mood as well as basic quality of life improves. As treatment progresses patients find they can often reduce and occasionally eliminate certain medications. Its especially important to note that acupuncture and (when appropriate) Chinese Herbs can significantly reduce the side effects of medications that are necessary and cannot be discontinued.
For more information on Traditional Chinese Medicine and Acupuncture: nccam.nih.gov/health/acupuncture
For more information on treatment and options go to: www.cloudhawkacupuncture.com
There is a quote from one of the earliest texts on Chinese Medicine “The superior physician is a teacher” I believe it’s first important to listen and provide time for understanding and then assist the patient to find their own path in healing at a pace that’s comfortable for them and empower them to follow it. The ancient Chinese also said “a journey of 10,000 miles begins with a single step” TCM is very powerful and effective yet also very gentle it allows a person to unfold like a beautiful flower and find their place in life once again.
Christine R. Oagley MSOM, OTR/L, L.Ac.
Cloud Hawk Acupuncture and Herbal Medicine L.L.C.