Do you recommend acupuncture for chronic pain, like arthritis? Is there any harm in trying? Even though we have made tremendous advances with medications to treat acute pain, when it comes to chronic pain, there’s no one-size-fits-all fix. The reason: Chronic pain often takes a huge physical as well as emotional toll on both the person with the pain and their loved ones. Because chronic pain deeply affects a person’s life, a treatment plan usually involves a “team” of approaches. This individualized plan, based on a patient’s particular needs, may involve a combination of drug and “complementary” or non-drug therapies. These non-drug therapies include, among other options, osteopathic manipulative therapy, chiropractic treatments, exercise, physical therapy, biofeedback, massage, cognitive behavioral therapy and your choice, acupuncture.
While acupuncture has been used for more than two centuries in China, it had been slow to catch on in western society. Thankfully, that seems to be changing. The World Health Organization has endorsed acupuncture as a treatment for more than 40 medical conditions, including chronic pain. Finally, this side of the Pacific seems to be getting the point (sorry, bad pun) that acupuncture can play a role in pain management.
So, do I endorse acupuncture? Yes, but—and this is key—it’s important to realize that acupuncture does not cure the problem and that every person’s response is different. However, acupuncture has been shown to help ease pain associated with a number of chronic conditions.
• Osteoarthritis of the knees
• Low back and neck pain
• Pelvic pain
• Migraine headaches
• Dental pain
• Fibromyalgia and soft-tissue pain
• Tennis elbow
• Post-surgical pain
Regarding the risks, in the hands of a skilled practitioner, acupuncture is generally very safe and well tolerated.
Precautions with Acupuncture
• Before beginning treatment, speak with your primary care provider. He or she can often help you find a good acupuncturist.
• Check to make sure the acupuncturist uses disposable (preferably) or sterilized needles.
• If you are offered herbal supplements or loosely packed herbs in addition to your acupuncture treatments, you must verify their safety.
• Additionally, if you take supplements, be sure to check with your physician or pharmacist to ensure they do not interact with your current medication(s) or medical condition.
• Tell the acupuncturist about your medical history, including a list of your medications.
• Choose a licensed and certified acupuncturist.
You may encounter people in the health care field who have mixed feelings about acupuncture or complementary therapies in general. That's why it is important to work with a physician whose treatment philosophy is in line with your own. Sometimes there is no right answer, and the success of a treatment program comes down to this: the patient's belief, as well as confidence, that his or her specific treatment plan will work.
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