As a traditionally trained Acupuncturist I regularly get people coming to me for the treatment of pain; often as a last resort but also as part of a holistic pain management strategy working in partnership with other health professionals such as doctors and physiotherapists.
As well as the acupuncture treatment and as part of the pain management system, I get my patients to follow an action plan which is aimed at enabling and empowering them to manage their pain away from the treatment room so they feel more in control and in charge of their lives as there are usually emotional and psychological consequences to living with chronic pain on a daily basis.
More often than I come across more people suffering from chronic pain than acute pain.
Acute pain, sometimes known as ‘warning pain’ comes on suddenly and signals that something is wrong inside the body. Acute pain can be caused by broken bones, infections, tumour or internal bleeding for example.
Chronic pain is defined as prolonged physical pain that lasts longer than the natural healing process should allow.
Pain signals in the brain keep firing within the central nervous system for weeks, months or even years, long after when the pain should have dissipated and reduced.
Where the pain comes from varies from person to person as does the amount of pain and the kind of pain felt. In treatment the best indicator of the how’s, what’s, where’s and when’s of the pain is the person suffering the pain.
In many cases there is a cause of the pain, we call it the root, but for some people there is no obvious cause which in some treatment strategies prove problematic.
Typical causes of chronic pain include headaches, migraines, back pain, cancer pain, pain from prior drug abuse, arthritic pain, fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue syndrome, endometriosis, inflammatory bowel disease and so on.
Some people may have more than one chronic pain condition whereas others have so many health challenges they don’t know where the pain is; it seems to them it’s all over the place.
So how does pain affect the body?
Within traditional Chinese medicine practitioners consider pain, any kind of pain, to affect not only the body physically but also the mind, the emotions and the spirits. Why? Because the brain and central nervous system is involved affecting the other physiological systems in the body. In TCM terms there is an imbalance and disharmony within the body which is affecting the health and normal functioning of the organs, channels, body fluids and psyche.
To explain it simply, pain travels along two pathways from a source, such as an injury, back to the brain. One is the sensory pathway, which transmits the physical sensation such as soreness in the affected area and the other is the emotional pathway; which goes from the injury to the amygdala and the anterior cingulate cortex—areas of the brain that process emotion.
As Dr Natalia Morone, Assistant Professor of General Internal Medicine at University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine says: “you may not be aware of it but you’re having a negative emotional reaction to [the] pain as well as a physical reaction”.
So chronic pain can affect the overall quality of a person’s life since it not only hurts the body it hurts the emotions, impact on the mood, affects the memory and causes relationships to suffer. There is a mind-body connection to pain.
To discover how trained acupuncturists and TCM practitioners approach the treatment of pain you read my blog Approaching the Treatment of Pain