Avoiding Opioids - Using Acupuncture and Acupressure to Treat Chronic Pain

Updated: Mar 5

If you suffer from chronic pain in your lower back, hips, or sacrum, acupuncture and acupressure may help with decreasing your pain. Acupuncture and acupressure are forms of traditional Chinese medicine (TCM). Acupuncture requires the use of small needles to tap into 12 meridians in the body. Acupressure is a technique used to apply firm pressure to specific points in the body by using the hands, elbows, palms, feet and sometimes a massaging tool (National Institutes of Health, 2020).


There are six yin meridians and six yang meridians in our bodies. Each of our meridians corresponds to an organ and connective tissues or fascial lines in the body. For example, the heart, liver, lungs, kidneys, and spleen are referred to as the yin meridians. The bladder, stomach, and gallbladder are considered the yang meridians (Moncayo et al., 2007). According to Chinese medicine, qi pronounced as “chee” is a vital life energy, thought to flow along the meridians. If qi is not balanced, then disease can set in the body causing various illnesses and even pain (Stux & Pomeranz, 2013).


The practice of acupuncture and acupressure is still somewhat controversial. Some western medical practitioners do not believe there are meridians in our bodies (Vickers et al., 2018). In addition, some doctors do not have confidence in the practice of acupressure and acupuncture for relieving chronic pain in various parts of the body (Vickers et al., 2018). I have tried acupuncture and acupressure for managing pain and heavy bleeding from large uterine fibroids and for lower back pain. I am providing my unbiased opinion on my experience with acupuncture and acupressure for managing pain.


I tried acupuncture along with acupressure twice a week over six weeks. I was uncertain if acupuncture could possibly help stop the large amounts of blood I was losing from my large uterine fibroids. I was losing so much blood each month that my gynecologist told me I would need a blood transfusion. This news terrified me and forced me to take drastic measures to stop losing so much blood. My doctor gave me a prescription for some pills to slow down my blood loss. I decided not to take any of the medication because when I read the monograph that came with the prescription, the risks of taking the medication outweighed the benefits. As a final resort, I started researching alternative therapeutic approaches for stopping my blood loss and for managing pain.


My Experience with Acupuncture and Acupressure

Lucky for me the acupuncture definitely helped with stopping the large amount of blood I was losing each month. I found myself really looking forward to my appointments each week. Once the doctor carefully placed the acupuncture needles in various locations on my body, which included my head, forehead, hands, feet, and toes, I was able to really relax and get into a meditative mindset. The acupressure session would begin in trouble spots prior to placing the needles throughout my body. However, not all of my pain was resolved from acupuncture and acupressure. The intensity of my pain definitely decreased within the third week of trying acupuncture and acupressure. Also, Chinese herbs were recommended throughout my treatment plan. I took the herbs but they smelled bad and were very pungent.


Acupuncture or acupressure may not work for everyone and for every type of pain. However, I would definitely suggest trying acupuncture if you do not want to risk taking narcotic drugs such as opioids. Opioids are extremely addictive and should be used with caution. If you decide to try acupuncture or acupressure, make certain you inform your primary care provider (PCP) that you are trying an alternative therapeutic approach. It is also very important to ensure your doctor is aware of any supplements or herbs that you may take as a part of your treatment plan. Chinese herbs can possibly interfere with medication that you may already be taking for other medical conditions. So, please be certain to get approval from your PCP before taking any Chinese herbs or supplements.


Finally, if you decide to try acupuncture or acupressure, make certain you select a practitioner who is experienced and certified in acupuncture by the National Certification Commission for Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine (NCCAOM). Selecting a certified acupuncturist should ensure you are being treated by a practitioner who will use high standards, has undergone rigorous training, and has met national standards for safety and competency in acupuncture and oriental medicine. If you would like to learn more about complementary and integrative health practices, I highly recommend visiting the National Institutes of Health’s National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health website (NCCIH).


Namaste!



References:


National Institutes of Health (NIH), National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health (NCCIH). (2017). “Acupuncture.” Retrieved February 25, 2020 (https://nccih.nih.gov/health/acupuncture).


Moncayo, R., Rudisch, A., Kremser, C., & Moncayo, H. (2007). 3D-MRI rendering of the anatomical structures related to acupuncture points of the Dai mai, Yin qiao mai and Yang qiao mai meridians within the context of the WOMED concept of lateral tension: implications for musculoskeletal disease. BMC Musculoskeletal Disorders, 8, 33. https://doi.org/10.1186/1471-2474-8-33


Stux G, Pomeranz B. Basics of Acupuncture. Springer Science & Business Media; 2013.


Vickers, A. J., Vertosick, E. A., Lewith, G., MacPherson, H., Foster, N. E., Sherman, K. J., Irnich, D., Witt, C. M., Linde, K., & Acupuncture Trialists' Collaboration (2018). Acupuncture for Chronic Pain: Update of an Individual Patient Data Meta-Analysis. The journal of pain : official journal of the American Pain Society, 19(5), 455–474. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jpain.2017.11.005


Disclosure: (I am a writer and editor for the National Institutes of Health. Information contained in this blog post are not associated with my role at NIH).

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