Pain is our body’s warning system telling us something is wrong. It appears in many forms – none of them pleasant. It can be acute and stabbing in nature, or chronic and nagging. It can appear suddenly or develop over weeks or months. Acupuncture is well known for it’s ability to treat lower back pain, osteo-arthritis of the knee and even dental pain. Pain conditions which persist for months may become more widespread as the body attempts to compensate – if your knee hurts when you walk, then consciously or unconsciously you will alter your walk to limit the pain and over time this could lead to hip pain or back pain.
Acute pain conditions (under 6 weeks) generally respond quickly to acupuncture treatment and if possible, two treatments a week are best for a couple of weeks until the pain has gone. Chronic pain conditons (over 3 months) are a different matter because the body has incorporated the pain condition into it’s sense of ‘self’. You will find yourself saying ‘my shoulder injury’ instead of ‘the pain in my shoulder’. Naturally this takes longer to shift and is true of all chronic conditions.
Proper circulation in the tissue is important not only for blood to nourish the tissue but also to enhance the elimination of muscle fatigue and pain-causing substances (e.g., lactic acid). Tight muscles with poor circulation are easily fatigued and more prone to injury. When circulation in the tissue improves through exercise and treatment, muscle relaxation occurs and immediate pain reduction follows in many cases.
Lower back pain may be caused by tension, soreness or stiffness anywhere from the neck downwards. It’s often referred to as ‘non-specific back pain’ and the good news is that it can improve on it’s own after a few days. If pain persists after this time, it’s best to get some help – acute conditions (lasting less than 6 weeks) tend to respond much faster to treatment than chronic conditions (lasting longer than 3 months).
- Stay active and continue your daily activities as normally as you can but don’t put unnecessary strain on your back. Bed rest may actually make low back pain worse, so try to limit the time you spend resting.
- Apply hot or cold packs to the affected area – test to find out which most improves the pain. You can buy specially designed hot and cold packs from most pharmacies. A cold compress of ice or a bag of frozen peas wrapped in a towel is fine. Don’t apply ice directly to your skin as it can cause damage.
- Gentle stretching and exercise – on a daily basis! This keeps the muslces, joints and ligaments supple and helps prevent injury.
- Lie on the floor 5-20 mins with your knees bent and feet positioned 12 – 16″ away from your buttocks in line with your shoulders. Place a towel under your head for support if required. Let your back relax – don’t try and press it into the floor.
Below is a list of ‘red flag’ symptoms. If you are experiencing any of these, it’s important that you contact your GP.
- a fever (high temperature)
- redness or swelling on your back
- pain down your legs and below your knees
- numbness or weakness in one or both legs or around your buttocks
- loss of bladder or bowel control (incontinence)
- constant pain, particularly at night
- pain that is getting much worse and is spreading up your spine
Neck pain is often caused by a simple muscle strain or tension. Other causes include whiplash or changes in the bones or joints of your spine. Most cases of neck pain are relatively short-lived. But sometimes neck problems may be part of a general condition such as osteoarthritis.
The most common type of neck problem is non-specific neck pain. The symptoms include pain and stiffness, but there doesn’t seem to be an obvious cause. It may happen after sitting in a draught, repetitive work, carrying heavy bags, or after a minor twisting injury.
Tightness at the top of the neck can influence autonomic nervous functioning and prolonged periods of tension can cause various symptoms such as headache, lack of concentration, poor memory, insomnia or irritability.
- gently massage your neck muscles
- try gentle stretches – don’t use force!
- try relaxation techniques
- make sure you have good posture
- get a good night’s sleep and use a supportive pillow
Shoulder muscle tension and stiffness is a very common concern, especially in people who work in an office. Sitting in front of a computer and typing for extensive periods of time causes a lack of circulation in the tissue and fatigue of the muscles involved. Shoulder pain and stiffness can be also aggravated by other common reasons, many of which can be effectively treated with acupuncture.
Osteoarthritis of the Knee
There’s now clear scientific evidence that acupuncture can be beneficial if you have osteoarthritis in your knees. Pain relief may only last a short time at the beginning, but repeated treatment (usually weekly for six or eight sessions) can bring long-term benefits. If the pain returns, then more acupuncture may help for another few months.
As with all treatments to relieve pain, breaking the ‘pain cycle’ sometimes gives permanent relief. This depends on the stage of your arthritis, although acupuncture can help at almost any stage of your condition.
If you can’t tolerate conventional drugs then acupuncture may help get you through a painful episode.