How Effective is Acupuncture in Treating Chronic Pain?

Lynn Webster, MD, chronic pain, alternative treatments, acupuncture Studies show conflicting results about whether or not acupuncture can help people with chronic pain, but there is evidence that acupuncture works for some people and some types of pain.

Even if, as some studies have found, the benefits of acupuncture are all in the head, those benefits could still be worth pursuing. After all, pain is only perceived in the brain. In other words, pain is all in the head, too. To be effective, treatment for chronic pain has to affect the brain chemistry.

The change in brain chemistry may start with a poke in the ear with a fine needle, but the effect is downstream. It is like the effect of a dimmer switch on a light. You dial down the overhead lights by rotating the dimmer switch on the wall, and you dial down the pain by — in this case — using acupuncture.

Because there’s no telling in advance which categories of chronic pain patients stand to benefit most from acupuncture it’s probably worth a try for many people. But before you commit to that course of treatment, remember that pain can be a harbinger of serious pathology, so acupuncture (and any other alternative treatments, for that matter) should not be used without a thorough medical evaluation.

Once serious medical problems have been ruled out, it’s very reasonable to consider acupuncture. Even if acupuncture is not covered by your insurance, it could be less expensive than a co-payment for many prescriptions. And, if the benefits of acupuncture are all in the head, that’s a good place for healing from chronic pain to begin.

Considering the fact that the risk of side effects is very low when your acupuncturist is experienced and licensed, you should consider acupuncture sooner rather than later. After all, a treatment that’s endured for thousands of years must have something to it.



Purchase my book The Painful Truth: What Chronic Pain Is Really Like and Why It Matters to Each of Us (available on Amazon) or read a free excerpt here.thepainfultruth-cvr

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  1. Elsa Anderson on November 16, 2016 at 12:45 pm

    My mom suffers from chronic pain and has tried for years to find a way to relieve it. She’s never tried acupuncture, but I think it could be a good idea for her to try it out since it will give her an opportunity to relax and not worry about anything. I also like how like how you point out that acupuncture should not be used without a thorough medical evaluation. So we’ll have to talk to her doctors to see if this is something worth trying out for her. Thanks!

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