Pain Relief With Acupuncture

Easing pain with needles may sound agonizing, but acupuncture is an ancient form of pain relief.

Acupuncture originated in China thousands of years ago. In traditional practice, needles are pierced through the skin in specific areas to improve the flow of energy throughout the body. Western scientists suspect the practice may stimulate the release of chemicals, which can either soothe pain, or prompt the body's natural healing systems.

The National Institutes of Health has sponsored a number of studies on acupuncture, including its affect on arthritis, inflammation, and chronic pain. Until researchers can better pinpoint how acupuncture works in pain relief, physicians such as Wilson say the patient's faith in the procedure has a lot to do with its success.

"I think it can work for anybody, but it's going to work for the people who believe in it," Wilson says, adding that many treatment strategies are effective in part because of the patients' belief in them. "People who don't believe they're going to get better, I think, are less likely to get through."

Acupuncture is not recommended for people who are taking blood thinners, or for those with a bleeding disorder. Risks of the procedure involve dangers inherent in needle use, including spread of an infectious disease, piercing of organs, minor bleeding, and broken or forgotten needles.

Pain Relief With Stress Management

"The reign of pain falls mainly in the brain," jokes Dennis Turk, professor of anesthesiology and pain research at the University of Washington School of Medicine.

Yet there is a truth to Turk's joke. "You can never have pain without a conscious organism to interpret it," he says, referring to the brain. With this organ, people make sense out of noxious sensations and determine how bothersome they really are. A host of factors, including psychological ones, can affect how people perceive sensations, what they decide to do about them, and how they interact with their world.

Stress is a big psychological factor that can intensify the perception of pain. When people are distressed, their muscles tend to become tense and may arouse already tender tissues. On an emotional level, the pressure may amplify their perception of pain. "Emotional arousal or stress may lead them to interpret their situation as being more difficult, and may make them avoid certain types of activities, because they're afraid it's going to make their pain worse," says Turk.

To alleviate the pressure, Turk recommends trying to change the source of stress. For instance, if you find yourself always arguing with your spouse, it may help to find a way to communicate with him or her instead.

If it is not possible to change the source of tension, try distracting yourself with enjoyable activities such as spending time with friends, watching a movie, or listening to music. Participating in something pleasurable may shift focus away from pain.

Another strategy is to unwind. Relaxation techniques include deep breathing, progressive muscle relaxation, meditation, visualization, massage, yoga, and Tai Chi. These practices have been proven to be effective.

Some people have found stress relief by joining support groups or by getting individual counseling on how to best cope with their stress or ailment.

For the most part, many of these stress-management strategies have been proven to be effective. Yet not everyone can benefit from each of the techniques. Different methods work for different people. For instance, there is good evidence that people who go to support groups experience pain reduction and dramatic improvements in their physical and emotional functioning. Nonetheless, a person who doesn't want to talk about their ailment would not be a good candidate for a support group.

Pain Relief With Exercise

Many people in pain often avoid exercise because movement hurts too much. Yet their inactivity may actually worsen their condition.

"The human body was designed to be in motion no matter what state of health you're in," says Sal Fichera, an exercise physiologist, certified personal trainer, and owner of ForzaFitness.com in New York City. "If you let your body become inactive, then you will let your body degenerate."

Muscle degeneration can lead to other problems such as diminishing bone density, depression, and a weakened heart. In contrast, regular exercise can help keep joints flexible and strong, and better able to deal with arthritic pain. Plus, physical activity promotes the release of mood-enhancing chemicals in the body that can help diminish the perception of pain.

There are three types of exercise recommended for arthritis patients. The first, flexibility workouts, involve stretches that can help enhance range of motion. The second, cardiovascular or aerobic workouts, includes walking, water exercises, and cycling. The third, strength conditioning, includes isometric or isotonic workouts.

Isometric workouts are static exercises that involve applying resistance without moving the joint. For example, if you stand up against the wall and press your hands against it, you are working out your chest muscle. On the other hand, isotonic workouts use the full range of motion. They include bicep curls and leg extensions.

To decrease pain and prevent further injury, it is important to apply appropriate effort in proper form. Not all exercises are right for everyone. If one type of exercise does not work for you, there are always other options. Before starting a fitness program, make sure to consult with your doctor and with a trained fitness professional.

 

See also

Comments