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How Does Acupuncture Treat Pain?

Updated: Jan 19, 2022

Acupuncture is now one of the recommended non-pharmacological treatments for pain by the Joint Commission. The Joint Commission is the principal accrediting agency for health care organizations (e.g. hospitals, cardiac care centers, laboratories). They set standards that health care organizations must follow in order to stay accredited or certified.

In 2011, the Joint Commission added non-pharmacological pain management treatments such as acupuncture to their pain management guidelines. That doesn’t mean that hospitals have to offer acupuncture, but it implies that physical modalities such as acupuncture, massage, and chiropractic should be recommended to patients as an alternative to taking pain medication, and that they have enough scientific research on the effectiveness of the these treatments for pain to feel confident in giving this recommendation.

So, how does acupuncture treat pain?

The acupuncture needle safely stimulates your body’s healing response. As soon as the needle is inserted into the skin, it sends signals to the brain to release the endorphins and it directs your body’s natural anti-inflammatory factors to the needle and promotes self-healing.

While the exact mechanism of acupuncture is not yet fully understood, there is some evidence to support the following. When the needle gets inserted into the skin, and slightly deeper into the muscle, it stimulates “a” (delta) and “c” (afferent) fibers. This stimulation transmits a signal up through the spinal cord and into the brain which results in the release of endogenous opioids, thus promoting pain suppression.

We are able to approach pain reduction from several different angles with acupuncture needle stimulation: we can increase micro-circulation, release feel good endorphins, support systemic homeostasis, and reduce inflammation.

What I appreciate about acupuncture is that it not only reduces pain, it also facilitates healing. The true goal is usually not just numbing pain, but restoring function to the body so that we can go about our days with health and vitality.

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