The benefits of acupuncture in regards to pain management are well known, both in research data and within our culture. Often new patients arrive with some sort of pain condition, willing to try acupuncture as a last resort. While acupuncture intervention is helpful at any stage of an injury, it is best to get in to see your acupuncturist as soon as possible in regards to pain. At the heart of it, Chinese Medicine is a preventative medicine. When treating injuries or pain in the body, CM is preventing long-standing, chronic effects by resolving imbalances early. As a pleasant side effect, injuries heal faster with less pain.
Acupuncture has a cumulative effect, similar to physical therapy. A common initial treatment plan for pain in the body would be once a week for 4-6 weeks, then re-evaluate. It’s very common for pain relief to last for 1-2 days, then 3-4 days, eventually lasting the entire week around treatment 5 or 6. Every person responds differently to acupuncture, but this is a common trajectory.
Depending on the nature of the injury or affected area, your acupuncturist will often include adjunct therapies along with the acupuncture for more complete resolution. Tuina, or Chinese medical massage, is often utilized to address the soft tissue. Tuina uses many varied techniques, but one can expect light to deep pressing into tissues, range of motion with joints and the signature rolling technique.
Heat is often applied diffusely to an area (like frozen shoulder) in the form of a heat lamp. Or, moxibustion is used in one of its various forms to provide more specific heat to an acupuncture point or small area.
Cupping and gua sha often provide immediate relief from chronically tight muscles and tissues. These two adjunct treatments are usually used in the last 5-10 minutes of a treatment.
Topical herbs are often used with painful body conditions, as a means of transdermal application of medicine. Your acupuncturist will recommend which topical herbs to use that will be most beneficial to your injury. The following are some commonly used topical patches. Always test for allergy reaction by wearing for just a couple hours, then removing and waiting 24 hours to see if skin reaction occurs. If skin irritation occurs, use a clay mask to draw the herbs out of the skin for immediate relief, or you can just let it resolve on its own (usually 2-5 days) and know that your skin doesn’t like that particular herbal formula. We sell the following topical herbs for pain relief at Thompson Family Acupuncture Clinic in Walla Walla. These are some of the most common and can be found in most shops that carry Chinese medicine herbs and supplies.
Yunnan Bai Yao: A fantastic go-to for most types of pain. Most effective for arthritic or chronic pain conditions, the patches can be used over large areas like the low back or can be cut into small strips for small places like joints of the hands.
Wu Yang: A very balanced topical formula that contains warming, cooling and aromatic herbs. Placed on the tops of the upper traps or back of the neck, it can help alleviate muscular tension that gives rise to headaches or migraines. It can also be very helpful with acute injuries where there is swelling and pain.
701: More people have skin reactions to this pain patch, but some do not mind because they work so well for pain. The herbs in this formula have a great effect on the bone, regulating osteoblasts and osteoclasts. I recommend placing these patches on the feet at night when there is a bone spur or bony malformations in the toes due to arthritic conditions.
Moxa heat packs: When an injury has “cold” lodged in the tissues, or when there is great deficiency beneath the pattern of pain, using a moxa heat pack can be very helpful. It is similar to the hand and feet warmers used while skiing, but it contains the herb ai ye (mugwort). The same herb is burned when applying moxibustion to an area. It has a deeply therapeutic effect while also being soothing and comforting. The heat pack will stay warm for about 16 hours, but never use it while sleeping. While awake, you can place it over the low back and wrap a scarf around the waist to keep it in place. When it gets too warm, move it to the low belly. It’s great to use when you have a day off and plan to be home, or also wonderful during a road trip.
In conclusion, using acupuncture and it’s adjunct modalities not only resolves pain faster but it prevents a minor injury from becoming a chronic issue.
Julie Baron is an East Asian Medicine Practitioner at the Thompson Family Acupuncture Clinic in Walla Walla, WA. Julie seeks to empower individuals and communities. As a movement and mindfulness educator, she has a penchant for functional anatomy. As an EAMP, she has also has a passion for herbal medicine.