Most westerners know what acupuncture is even if they have never experienced it for themselves. This ancient Chinese medicine has been practiced for millennia as a way to increase the body’s natural energy flow and promote healing. Trained acupuncture practitioners use fine needles that they place in strategic points on the human body that correspond to specific energies.
Acupuncture has been successfully used to augment other treatments for chronic pain and other conditions, such as sports injuries. Patients dealing with the effects of neuropathic pain may see improvement of their condition based on the opening of these energy pathways in the body.
Neuropathic pain is a chronic condition most common in individuals who have experienced tissue damage. These damaged nerves send incorrect pain responses to the brain even when painful stimuli are not present. The pain can present itself as numbness or the tingling sensation of “pins and needles.” Like many chronic conditions, neuropathic pain doesn’t just affect the physical body. It can often lead to difficulty sleeping, anxiety, and depression. For this reason, a holistic approach to treatment is highly encouraged to focus on the entire mind, body, and spirit of a patient dealing with the effects of neuropathic pain.
There are many causes of neuropathic pain and some have unknown origins and can be difficult to treat conventionally.
Common neuropathic pain conditions include:
- Complex regional pain syndrome
- Diabetic neuralgia
These conditions affect the nerve pathways in the body. Your nervous system is what carries electrical impulses to the rest of your body from your brain. A healthy nervous system will respond to painful stimuli in a way to tell you to stop doing the action that is causing the pain. However, damaged nerves can send pain responses to the brain even when external stimuli are not present. This can be a debilitating condition.
How can acupuncture help with neuropathic pain?
Because of the range of causes and complex nature of nerve damage and neuropathic pain the remedies also need to be varied and even holistic in nature. Acupuncture can be used but additional methods with the treatment can help.
Electroacupuncture, a procedure where electrodes are placed on the needles, can help with range of motion and sensation problems. It also helps promote the growth of new, healthy nerves. Moxabustion, a treatment that uses burning herbs and heat therapy, can be used to help with spasms, fatigue, the tingling sensation causes by nerve damage, and inflammation. Some acupuncturists are trained in the use of a small hammer called a plum blossom needle. This is tapped against the skin. It also promotes nerve regrowth and can reduce pain in various conditions including post-herpetic neuralgia, a condition caused by shingles.
A small-scale study published by the British Medical Journal in 2011 showed that acupuncture could help individuals suffering from nerve pain as a result of cancer treatments. Patients treated with certain cancer medications are at risk of developing a condition called chemotherapy induced peripheral neuropathy (CIPN).
Like any cause of peripheral neuropathy, this creates a sensation of pain or tingling in the hands and feet of affected patients. However, like with most forms of nerve pain, there is no definitive cure. The study was created to determine if acupuncture could help patients feel relief from the condition overall. Study authors noted that:
“Out of a total of 192 patients with peripheral neuropathy eligible for inclusion in the study, 11 had developed their symptoms during a course of chemotherapy for various types of cancer. Six of these patients agreed to undergo acupuncture; the other five served as a comparison group.”
After acupuncture treatments the majority of patients in the study found that their overall pain sensations were reduced.
The researchers suggested that the science behind acupuncture, which increases blood flow to the affected areas of the body, may help promote the growth of new, healthy nerves. The authors of the study believed that the positive results were encouraging for patients suffering from CIPN. This lends some proof to the idea that acupuncture could benefit patients with other forms of neuropathic pain.
Acupuncture as part of a comprehensive pain management plan
The professionals at Harvard Medical School agree. In 2012 they published this article on their website promoting the use of acupuncture to treat pain.
Fibromyalgia, for example, is such a complex condition that effective treatments have not yet been established. There is no cure and the best that western medicine has been able to do is prescribe treatments for the individual’s symptoms.
Because of the unknown nature of the condition, it may be more advantageous for a patient to pursue more holistic methods for treating the entire condition as well as maintaining a healthy balance to their overall well-being.
There are very few negative side effects from the practice of acupuncture. The treatment is safe and effective for the majority of individuals that use it to help control pain and other symptoms. For this reason, it is beneficial to use this treatment in conjunction with an overall holistic approach for healing and quality of life. Working with medical doctors and trained specialists in holistic health can bring a balance to treatments and restore an overall sense of wellbeing to anyone affected by nerve pain.
The Harvard article goes on to say that the treatment may work better for some people and not for others, but since the risk is low it is practically a no-lose situation for patients who have not been able to find relief from more conventional methods.
To learn more about acupuncture, talk to a pain specialist trained in a variety of treatment methods to discover the best solutions for your specific nerve pain condition. The Harvard article encourages patients to seek out an experienced practitioner who is licensed in your state. However, not all states have a license requirement so the best resource may be an acupuncturist who holds a certification from the National Certification Commission for Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine
We want to hear from you: have you had any experiences using acupuncture to help with symptoms from neuropathic pain? What was the result?
Image by Marnie Joyce via Flickr