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Chronic Pain Coping Techniques – Pain Management

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Article written by: Andrew R. Block, PhD   Spine-Health.com

Clinicians who specialize in treating chronic pain now recognize that it is not merely a sensation, like vision or touch, but rather chronic pain is strongly influenced by the ways in which the brain processes the pain signals.

Chronic pain can provoke emotional reactions, such as fear or even terror, depending on what we believe about the pain signals. In other cases (such as in sports or another engaging, rewarding activity), chronic pain may be perceived by the individual as merely a nuisance, a feeling to be overcome in order to be able to continue in the activity.

The important role the mind plays in chronic pain is clearly recognized in the medical literature, as well as in the International Association for the Study of Pain’s definition of pain, which states that pain is always subjective and is defined by the person who experiences it.

The corollary is that the brain can also learn how to manage the sensation of pain. Using the mind to control chronic pain, or coping strategies, for managing persistent pain, may be used alone or in tandem with other pain management therapies.

Ideally, use of the chronic pain management techniques outlined in this article can help patients feel less dependent on pain killers and feel more empowered to be able to control their pain.

Managing Chronic Pain

Of course, the first step in coping with chronic back pain or other types of persistent pain is to receive a thorough medical evaluation to determine the cause of the pain.

  • In some situations, such as a herniated disc in the spine, it may be important to pay attention to the level and type of pain so that it can serve as a warning signal of impending damage.
  • In other cases, especially when the back pain is chronic and the health condition unchangeable, one goal can be to try and keep the chronic pain from being the entire focus of one’s life.

Whatever the medical condition, there are a number of effective strategies for coping with chronic back pain. These techniques generally include:

  • Relaxation training: Relaxation involves concentration and slow, deep breathing to release tension from muscles and relieve pain. Learning to relax takes practice, but relaxation training can focus attention away from pain and release tension from all muscles. Relaxation tapes are widely available to help you learn these skills.
  • Biofeedback: Biofeedback is taught by a professional who uses special machines to help you learn to control bodily functions, such as heart rate and muscle tension. As you learn to release muscle tension, the machine immediately indicates success. Biofeedback can be used to reinforce relaxation training. Once the technique is mastered, it can be practiced without the use of the machine.
  • Visual imagery and distraction: Imagery involves concentrating on mental pictures of pleasant scenes or events or mentally repeating positive words or phrases to reduce pain. Tapes are also available to help you learn visual imagery skills.

Distraction techniques focus your attention away from negative or painful images to positive mental thoughts. This may include activities as simple as watching television or a favorite movie, reading a book or listening to a book on tape, listening to music, or talking to a friend.

  • Hypnosis: Hypnosis can be used in two ways to reduce your perception of pain. Some people are hypnotized by a therapist and given a post-hypnotic suggestion that reduces the pain they feel. Others are taught self-hypnosis and can hypnotize themselves when pain interrupts their ability to function. Self-hypnosis is a form of relaxation training.

All of the above-describe techniques for coping with chronic back pain make use of four types of skills:

  • Deep Muscle Relaxation
  • Distraction: moving attention away from the pain signals
  • Imagery: visual, sound or other pictures and thoughts that provide a pleasant and relaxing experience
  • Dissociation: The ability to separate normally connected mental processes, leading to feelings of detachment and distance from the chronic pain.

11 Chronic Pain Control Techniques

To prepare for any chronic pain coping technique, it is important to learn how to use focus and deep breathing to relax the body. Learning to relax takes practice, especially when you are in pain, but it is definitely worth it to be able to release muscle tension throughout the body and start to remove attention from the pain.

Coping techniques for chronic pain begin with controlled deep breathing, as follows:

  • Try putting yourself in a relaxed, reclining position in a dark room. Either shut your eyes or focus on a point.
  • Then begin to slow down your breathing. Breathe deeply, using your chest. If you find your mind wandering or you are distracted, then think of a word, such as the word “Relax,” and think it in time with your breathing…the syllable “re” as you breathe in and “lax” as you breathe out.
  • Continue with about 2 to 3 minutes of controlled breathing.
  • Once you feel yourself slowing down, you can begin to use imagery techniques.

Eleven specific imagery and chronic pain control techniques that are effective for pain control include:

  1. Altered focus
    This is a favorite technique for demonstrating how powerfully the mind can alter sensations in the body. Focus your attention on any specific non-painful part of the body (hand, foot, etc.) and alter sensation in that part of the body. For example, imagine your hand warming up. This will take the mind away from focusing on the source of your pain, such as your back pain.
  2. Dissociation
    As the name implies, this chronic pain technique involves mentally separating the painful body part from the rest of the body, or imagining the body and mind as separate, with the chronic pain distant from one’s mind. For example, imagine your painful lower back sitting on a chair across the room and tell it to stay sitting there, far away from your mind.
  3. Sensory splitting
    This technique involves dividing the sensation (pain, burning, pins and needles) into separate parts. For example, if the leg pain or back pain feels hot to you, focus just on the sensation of the heat and not on the hurting.
  4. Mental anesthesia
    This involves imagining an injection of numbing anesthetic (like Novocain) into the painful area, such as imagining a numbing solution being injected into your low back. Similarly, you may then wish to imagine a soothing and cooling ice pack being placed onto the area of pain.
  5. Mental analgesia
    Building on the mental anesthesia concept, this technique involves imagining an injection of a strong pain killer, such as morphine, into the painful area. Alternatively, you can imagine your brain producing massive amount of endorphins, the natural pain relieving substance of the body, and having them flow to the painful parts of your body.
  6. Transfer
    Use your mind to produce altered sensations, such as heat, cold, anesthetic, in a non-painful hand, and then place the hand on the painful area. Envision transferring this pleasant, altered sensation into the painful area.
  7. Age progression/regression
    Use your mind’s eye to project yourself forward or backward in time to when you are pain-free or experiencing much less pain. Then instruct yourself to act “as if” this image were true.
  8. Symbolic imagery
    Envision a symbol that represents your chronic pain, such as a loud, irritating noise or a painfully bright light bulb. Gradually reduce the irritating qualities of this symbol, for example dim the light or reduce the volume of the noise, thereby reducing the pain.
  9. Positive imagery
    Focus your attention on a pleasant place that you could imagine going – the beach, mountains, etc. – where you feel carefree, safe and relaxed.
  10. Counting
    Silent counting is a good way to deal with painful episodes. You might count breaths, count holes in an acoustic ceiling, count floor tiles, or simply conjure up mental images and count them.
  11. Pain movement
    Move chronic back pain from one area of your body to another, where the pain is easier to cope with. For example, mentally move your chronic back pain slowly into your hand, or even out of your hand into the air.

Some of these techniques are probably best learned with the help of a professional, and it usually takes practice for these techniques to become effective in helping alleviate chronic pain. It is often advisable to work on pain coping strategies for about 30 minutes 3 times a week. With practice, you will find that the relaxation and chronic pain control become stronger and last longer after you are done.

Sometimes, after you are good at using the techniques, you can produce chronic pain relief and relaxation with just a few deep breaths. You can then start to use these techniques while you are engaged in any activity, working, talking, etc. With enough experience you will begin to feel a greater sense of control over the chronic pain and its effects on your life.

 

BRO-Logo-colorBlue Ridge Orthopaedic & Spine Center has on-site state-of-the-art technology to diagnosis and treat orthopaedic conditions. For your convenience, both of our offices are equipped with in-office radiology departments. Not only does this facilitate rapid diagnosis but it is also convenient for patients who may be experiencing pain or disability at the time of their visit. To schedule an appointment with one of our board-certified and fellowship trained physicians, call our Warrenton  office at 540-347-9220 or our Gainesville office at 703-743-2814.

DIY Hot and Cold packs

How to Make Your Own Gel Ice Pack

or Moist Heat Pack

Article written by:  via Spine-Health.com

Sometimes the simplest solutions are the best. For example, heat or cold therapy can provide a surprising amount of pain relief for most types of back and neck pain.

Treatment for Back and Neck Muscle Strain
Low back pain is commonly caused by injuries to the muscles.

Muscle strains and pulls are some of the most common causes of back pain, and can be soothed with heat and cold therapy.

  • Cold packs help reduce inflammation and numb a painful area.
  • Heat packs help increase circulation to a specific area of the body and can promote healing.

It’s easy to make a hot or cold pack with materials you already have at home. Making hot or cold packs yourself is convenient, because one will be ready whenever you need it, and it could save you some money.

Homemade gel ice packs

These homemade gel ice packs are more comfortable than a bag of frozen peas, because they mold better to your body without the lumps and bumps. They can be made for under $3.

What you need:

  • 1 quart or 1 gallon plastic freezer bags (depending on how large you want the cold pack)
  • 2 cups water
  • 1 cup rubbing alcohol

Instructions:

  1. Fill the plastic freezer bag with 1 cup of rubbing alcohol and 2 cups of water.
  2. Try to get as much air out of the freezer bag before sealing it shut.
  3. Place the bag and its contents inside a second freezer bag to contain any leakage.
  4. Leave the bag in the freezer for at least an hour.
  5. When it’s ready, place a towel between the gel pack and bare skin to avoid burning the skin.

Another way to apply ice to the back is by freezing water in a cup, and then rubbing it on the affected back muscles to reduce inflammation.

Freeze ice in a Styrofoam cup for a do-it-yourself ice massage.
Homemade moist heat packs

Heat therapy increases circulation to aching muscles, and provides pain relief. There are two types of heat therapy, dry and moist.

Electric heating pads bring a dry heat, which some people find to be less comforting than moist heat. Moist heat packs are less dehydrating to the skin, and they allow heat to absorb better into the skin and relieve pain faster.

What you need:

  • Cloth container (sock, fabric)
  • 4-6 cups filling (e.g. uncooked rice, flax seed, buckwheat, oatmeal)
  • Needle and thread (optional, but recommended)
  • Flair (ribbon, fragrant oils; optional)

Instructions:

  1. Fill your container with the filling.
  2. Tie or sew the container shut.
  3. Add soothing aromatherapy before you microwave, if you want.
  4. Microwave container for 1-3 minutes.
Sock heat packs for low back pain
Socks can make a heat pack that is beneficial for back pain.

Whether you are using cold or heat therapy, do not apply them for more than 15 minutes at a time. The best way to apply either heat or cold is to alternate 15 minutes on and 15 minutes off for an hour or two.

For another easy DIY project for back pain relief, see How Tennis Balls and Duct Tape Can Morph into a Do-It-Yourself Massage for Lower Back Pain

 

BRO-Logo-colorBlue Ridge Orthopaedic & Spine Center has on-site state-of-the-art technology to diagnosis and treat orthopaedic conditions. For your convenience, both of our offices are equipped with in office radiology departments. Not only does this facilitate rapid diagnosis but it is also convenient for patients who may be experiencing pain or disability at the time of their visit. To schedule an appointment with one of our board-certified and fellowship trained physicians, call our Warrenton  office at 540-347-9220 or our Gainesville office at 703-743-2814.

Treat your spine to some pampering this weekend!

It’s the weekend, time to relax, enjoy time with friends and family and indulge in good times. However, did you know that there are a few things that you can do that are pretty easy, massage therapy anyone, to take care of your spine at the same time? Just a little preventative care now, can make a big difference later.

3d rendered illustration - backache

11 Ways to Indulge Your Spine

courtesy of Spine-Health.com

Taking care of your back before serious problems arise is easier than you think. We have 11 ideas to help you give your spine the special treatment it deserves.

Our spines are made for movement. Watch: Lumbar Spine Anatomy Video

Make exercise a daily ritual
Research has consistently shown that exercise is the key to maintaining a healthy spine, and it helps rehabilitate injured spines. Our spines are made for movement, and even a simple exercise program that focuses on stretching and strengthening the back, hamstring, and abdominals can go a long way toward distributing nutrients into the spinal discs and soft tissues, accelerating the healing process, and keeping the discs, muscles, ligaments, and joints healthy. For more information, visit our Exercise Health Center.

Believe in the mind body connection
Take time to engage in mindful-meditation every day. Studies have shown this to be an effective tool for fighting chronic back pain. While the mechanism of pain perception is still a fairly mysterious topic, being able to tap into the mind-body connection may help you cope with pain. See Mindful Meditation vs. Chronic Pain

Maintain good posture while sitting
The spine is naturally built to curve, but slouching in a chair for eight hours a day at work can lead to muscle tension and lower back pain, and leg pain (sciatica).

As the discs in the lumbar spine (lower back) are already loaded three times more while sitting than standing, why make things even more difficult? Be sure to have an ergonomically-friendly office chair setup and to get up and stretch every 30 minutes or so.

For more information on preventing bad posture from becoming a habit and incorporating the right posture while not only sitting but walking, driving, standing, and lifting, see these Guidelines to Improve Posture.

Choose shoes wisely
The benefits of walking for the spine are plentiful, including strengthening the muscles that keep the body upright, nourishing spinal structures with necessary nutrients, improving flexibility, and strengthening the bones.

While walking, it’s important to have a flexible, comfortable pair of shoes that also serves as a stable base for the spine to stay in alignment. Here are some Guidelines for Buying Walking Shoes

Relax with heat therapy
Naturally your neck and back may feel sore at the end of a long day. Applying heat therapy is a great way not only to soothe spinal discomfort but to kick back and relax prior to going to sleep.

Try heating pads, wraps, warm gel packs, hot water bottles, or a bath/shower to benefit from heat therapy. Learn How to Apply Heat Therapy

Sleep on a supportive mattress and pillow
In ideal circumstances, nearly a 1/3 of the day is spent sleeping, which also serves as a time for the spine to rest after a hard day’s work. Still, an insufficient mattress can make rest a stressful time on the spine, and lead to some patients complaining of a stiff neck or back ache in the morning.

While sleep comfort is a matter of personal preference, taking into consideration a mattress that allows for correct support and sleeping positions can go a long way towards avoiding pain in the back and neck (cervical spine). See Choosing the Best Mattress and Pillow Support and Comfort.

Choose your food wisely
Your diet can make or break your overall health, and it can have an especially big impact on your spine health. Try sticking mostly to whole foods-foods you would find in nature- like vegetables, fruits, dairy, meats, grains, and legumes. Eventually make it your goal to eliminate all processed foods, and to only indulge in unhealthy treats once or twice a week.

Focusing on foods that are high in calcium (for bone strength and mass) and other nutrients and vitamins can help prevent osteoporosis, osteoarthritis and other conditions in the future. Similarly, maintaining a proper weight can reduce pressure on the spine and minimize back pain. For more information, visit our health center on Nutrition, Diet and Weight Loss.

Go for a swim

swimmer

Water therapy is especially advantageous for the spine because of the support the water gives to bones and joints during exercise. Buoyancy provides both mild resistance and support, thus reducing the risk of injury or pain during certain exercises.

Cold water soothes joint inflammation, while hot water stimulates circulation for stiff muscles and healing for minor muscle sprains or strains. For more information, get immersed in the following Water Therapy Exercise Program.

Literally Treat Yourself to Massage Therapy
Studies show that massage therapy is a legitimate treatment for some back pain. Massages offer several benefits, including improving blood circulation for the recovery of sore muscles, restoring spinal range of motion, helping with insomnia, and upping endorphins – the body’s natural chemicals that make patients feel good. See Massage Therapy for Lower Back Pain.

Resolve to quit smoking
Quitting smoking reduces the likelihood of lower back pain, which is reportedly 300 percent more likely in smokers than non-smokers. Resolving to quit is difficult, but there are many products, support groups, and strategies that have worked for thousands of people.

According to one study, smoking leads to degenerative spinal disorders and back pain as a result of damaging the vascular structures of spinal discs and joints. See why quitting smoking is a must-do for the spine in the following video: Stop Smoking!

Lift Correctly

lifting boxes
Improperly lifting heavy items can put the lower back muscles in abnormal positions that can produce painful muscle strains, and even cause the spinal joints to lock and the spinal discs to rupture.

Correct lifting is more than involving the knees, and should incorporate keeping the chest forward and the weight close to the body, and leading with the hips rather than the shoulders. Do you practice the right lifting techniques?

With all these suggestions in mind, what better day than today to start getting active and making these changes!

 

BRO-Logo-colorBlue Ridge Orthopaedic & Spine Center has on-site state-of-the-art technology to diagnosis and treat orthopaedic conditions. For your convenience, both of our offices are equipped with in-office radiology departments. Not only does this facilitate rapid diagnosis but it is also convenient for patients who may be experiencing pain or disability at the time of their visit. To schedule an appointment with one of our board-certified and fellowship trained physicians, call our Warrenton  office at 540-347-9220 or our Gainesville office at 703-743-2814.

Exercise benefits more than just the waistline

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In this article published by Stephen H. Hochschuler, MD on Spine-Health.com, the importance of exercise and fitness on your back is discussed. Keeping strong and active, keeps the muscle from becoming stiff, which can lead to more pain. However, make sure before you do ANY activity, especially after surgery or an injury, be sure to consult with your doctor to make sure it’s safe.

Exercise and Fitness to Help Your Back

A common (and harmful) misconception is that exercise should be avoided when a patient is experiencing back pain. Understandably, many patients are reluctant to exercise out of the fear that any exercises or stretching will aggravate their existing back pain. This may make them rely too heavily on medical treatments and underemphasize the importance of exercise for healing and long term back pain relief.

For most back problems, exercise and movement are the natural stimuli for the healing process. Controlled, gradual and progressive exercise, rather than inactivity and bed rest, most often provides the best long-term solution for reducing back pain and preventing (or lessening) future episodes of pain.

Most experts recommend no more than one or two days rest at the onset of most episodes of back pain. Prolonged inactivity can actually increase back pain as the back becomes stiff, weak, and deconditioned. As the pain increases, many patients reduce their activity and exercise levels, resulting in even more back pain and aggravating the cycle of inactivity and back pain recurrence.

Exercise plays the dual role of both treating back pain and helping prevent future episodes of pain.

  • By nourishing and repairing spinal structures, exercise helps alleviate existing back problems.
  • Movement and exercise keep the anatomy of the back healthy, flexible and strong in order to reduce the chances of further injury and back pain.

It is always advisable for patients to first consult with a health professional before beginning any exercise or fitness program. Working with a physician or experienced spine specialist will ensure that patients’ activities are safe for their back and for their overall health. With back pain, it’s particularly important to get an accurate diagnosis for the cause of the patient’s pain from a physician or chiropractor in order to rule out possible types of back pain that may be aggravated by exercise (such as spinal instability).

How Exercise Helps the Back
Engaging in exercise and fitness activities helps keep the back healthy by allowing discs to exchange fluids which is how the disc receives its nutrition. A healthy disc will swell with water and squeeze it out, similar to the action of a sponge. This sponge action distributes nutrients to the disc.

In addition, fluid exchange helps to reduce the swelling in the other soft tissues that naturally occurs surrounding injured discs. When there is a lack of exercise, swelling increases and discs become malnourished and degenerated.

Exercising the back reduces stiffness by keeping the connective fibers of ligaments and tendons flexible. Improved mobility through back exercise helps to prevent the connective fibers from tearing under stress, which in turn prevents injury and back pain.

Another important effect of exercise is that it stretches, strengthens, and repairs muscles that help to support the back. The back and abdominal muscles act as an internal corset supporting the vertebrae discs, facet joints, and ligaments. When back and abdominal muscles are weak they cannot support the back properly. Back strengthening exercises help to strengthen these supporting muscles in order to prevent straining soft tissues (e.g. muscles, ligaments, and tendons) and provide sufficient support for the structures in the spine.

Additionally, stretching is good for the back. For example, stretching hamstring muscles helps to relieve stress on the low back. Another benefit of back exercise is that the motion helps lubricate the facet joints, which are synovial joints that require appropriate motion.

Integrating Exercise with Medical Treatment

Exercise and fitness are necessary for healing existing back problems, recovering from back surgery, and especially for keeping the back healthy to help prevent (or at least lessen) future episodes of back pain.

Ideally, an exercise and fitness program should be integrated during most phases of treatment for pain relief and to improve the overall health of patients. If the pain is severe, however, patients may first need to be treated for the pain prior to starting a back exercise program.

Specific Exercise Strategies

The following guidelines and insights are designed to help patients plan and follow through with a safe and effective exercise program to condition the back. The key goals of engaging in exercise and fitness activities are to aid the healing process for an injured back and alleviate existing back pain while helping to prevent (or at least minimize) future problems.

  • Find the right type of professional to help with the exercise and fitness program. Patients should always consult with a physician prior to beginning any exercise or fitness program. A healthcare professional can assist with the development of an appropriate list ofback exercises and activities in which to engage or avoid. Health professionals such as physical therapists, chiropractors, and physical medicine and rehabilitation physicians (physiatrists) often have specific training and expertise with exercise and fitness programs for pain relief. It’s particularly important to see a health professional with expertise in spinal conditions and back pain, as different back conditions often require very different exercise programs.

See How a Physical Therapist Can Help with Exercise

  • Expect some initial discomfort when beginning a new exercise and fitness program. However, start slowly, because the results of back exercise, such as soreness, may not be felt for 24 to 48 hours after the exercise session. Beginning an exercise program after an episode of back pain will likely cause some increase in pain in the beginning. However, the back pain experienced during exercise should be “good pain.” This pain is to be expected as a natural part of increasing activity and stretching tissues that have become stiff and deconditioned.
  • Set a careful pace when starting to exercise. When returning to activity after an episode of pain or following surgery, ease into back exercise and physical activity. Be careful not to overwork or strain muscles that may have become deconditioned after a period of inactivity. Taking into account that there may be some initial discomfort, a cautious approach to back exercise can help keep back pain under control and prevent a flare-up.

Include a combination of stretching, strengthening, and low-impact aerobic conditioning exercise. Utilizing these three components of exercise will help heal existing problems, avoid injury and prevent future problems. Muscles will become strengthened and more flexible, repairing strained muscles that cause back pain. Low-impact aerobic conditioning helps to stretch and strengthen the back as well as the abdominals and hamstrings, two muscles that help to support the back.

Engage in gentle forms of exercise, such as water therapy or walking. For patients experiencing higher levels of back pain, exercise may be more comfortable in the water than on land. Water therapy provides the therapeutic effect of relieving pain and also can help prepare the body for more extensive exercise. Another form of gentle physical activity is exercise walking, a good option for patients in less pain who are ready to move onto more intensive exercises on land.

Consider alternative forms of exercise, such as Pilates, yoga, or Tai Chi. Pilates, yoga, and Tai Chi provide gentle strengthening and stretching exercise that can help alleviate present back pain. They help improve overall fitness and posture, which in turn prevents future episodes of back pain. Other benefits of alternative therapies like Pilates, yoga, and Tai Chi are stress relief and relaxation, which can also assist with back pain relief.

  • Know when to reassess the exercise and fitness program. If back pain during exercise becomes severe, it is important to redesign the back exercise program with the help of a professional. The individual patient is the best judge of whether the pain during exercise is normal discomfort or if the level of pain is signaling that the patient should discontinue the specific exercise.
  • Build a motivating support system during the course of the exercise program. Friends and family may often encourage patients to rest and avoid physical activity because of the common misconception that exercise causes back pain. However, the opposite is true when patients perform the appropriate back exercises. The patient may need to educate others about the importance of back exercise and fitness for back pain relief. Telling friends and family about plans to increase start exercising and asking for their encouragement may help the program’s success.
  • Keep a written record of progress made during the exercise and fitness program. Tracking progress is useful for the patient as well as for health professionals who are helping with the exercise program. Records could include a list of the specific back exercises performed, number of sets and repetitions, duration of exercise, and pain and sensations experienced during exercise. This helps both the patient and the exercise professional track progress toward fitness goals and ensures that information is accurately communicated among different professionals and to the patient. Monitoring progress may also help keep the patient motivated to continue with the exercise and fitness program.
  • Many people will experience some kind of lower back pain at some point in their lives. An ounce of prevention by doing a few simple exercises daily to keep the back nice and healthy will go a long way to alleviate lower back pain problems. Learn why exercise is so important for a pain-free, healthy back in this video.

 Article courtesy of Spine-Health.com and Stephen H. Hochschuler, MD

 

BRO-Logo-colorBlue Ridge Orthopaedic & Spine Center has on-site state-of-the-art technology to diagnosis and treat orthopaedic conditions. For your convenience, both of our offices are equipped with in-office radiology departments. Not only does this facilitate rapid diagnosis but it is also convenient for patients who may be experiencing pain or disability at the time of their visit. To schedule an appointment with one of our board-certified and fellowship trained physicians, call our Warrenton  office at 540.347.9220 or our Gainesville office at 703.743.2814. Or Click here to make an appointment.

 

Acupuncture offers a drug-free approach to pain relief.

accupuncture-image

What is Acupuncture?

Acupuncture is a form of Chinese medicine that has been practiced for centuries. It’s based on the theory that energy, called chi (say “chee”), flows through and around your body along pathways called meridians.

Acupuncturists believe that illness occurs when something blocks or unbalances your chi. Acupuncture is a way to unblock or influence chi and help it flow back into balance. It is done by putting very thin needles into your skin, at certain points, on your body. This influences the energy flow. Sometimes heat, pressure, or mild electrical current is used along with needles.

What happens during acupuncture?

Your acupuncture provider will give you an exam and ask questions about your pain and how well you are functioning. He or she will also ask about your overall health.

Then your provider will look for the places (called points) on your body to access the chi that is blocked or not flowing right. Each of the points relates to certain health problems or body functions.

Your provider will look for landmarks on your body—using certain muscles or bones, for example—to find the points so that he or she can place the needles.

After the provider finds the points, he or she will quickly tap very thin needles into your skin. He or she will probably place several needles. Some may be placed deeper than others, depending on what the provider believes is needed to restore the flow of chi.

Every provider is different, but in most cases treatment lasts for 15 minutes to an hour. You may have several visits to complete your treatment. Some people have ongoing visits.

What does it feel like?

You may feel slight pressure when a needle goes in. Most people find that it doesn’t hurt. The area may tingle, feel numb, itch, or be a little sore. Providers believe that this is a sign that the energy flow, or chi, has been accessed.

After the needle is placed, your provider may roll the needle slightly back and forth. Or he or she may use heat or electrical current on the needle.

What is acupuncture used for?

People use acupuncture to relieve pain and treat certain health conditions. You can use it by itself or as part of a treatment program. Studies have found promising results for the use of acupuncture to treat nausea and vomiting related to pregnancy, chemotherapy, and postsurgery pain.  Acupuncture also may be useful for:

  • Stroke rehabilitation, which involves relearning skills that a person lost because of brain damage from a stroke.
  • Headache. A study shows that adding acupuncture to standard treatment leads to significant, long-lasting relief from chronic headaches, especially migraines.
  • Menstrual cramps.
  • Tennis elbow.
  • Fibromyalgia, or widespread pain and tenderness of muscle and soft tissue.
  • Myofascial pain, caused by spasm in the muscles.
  • Osteoarthritis, or the breakdown of the tissue (cartilage) that protects and cushions joints. A study found that acupuncture can reduce knee pain and increase movement of the knee in people with osteoarthritis.
  • Low back pain. For people who have low back pain, acupuncture may help decrease pain and increase activity. Some studies show that acupuncture reduced pain and disability related to back problems more than usual treatment. Another summary of several studies showed that acupuncture reduced pain and increased the ability to be active, but not any more than other treatments.
  • Carpal tunnel syndrome, or pressure on a nerve in the wrist that results in tingling, numbness, weakness, or pain of the fingers and hand.
  • Asthma, or inflammation in the tubes that carry air to the lungs, resulting in periodic episodes of difficulty breathing, wheezing, chest tightness, and coughing.
  • Drug addiction. Acupuncture may help reduce symptoms of withdrawal after a person stops taking a drug he or she is addicted to. It may also help prevent a relapse. More studies are needed to learn about the benefits of acupuncture.
  • Dental pain
  • Labor pain

Is Acupuncture safe?

In general, acupuncture is safe when done by a certified provider. A state license ensures that the provider has a certain level of training and follows certain guidelines. But there are still a few states where acupuncture is not licensed.

In very rare cases, problems may occur after acupuncture. You could get an infection, especially if the needles aren’t sterile. But licensed providers throw away their needles after one use. Make sure your provider uses a new pack of sterile needles every time.

Talk with your doctor if you have other questions about the safety of acupuncture.

Always tell your doctor if you are using a treatment like acupuncture.

Choosing an acupuncturist

Check to see if your state licenses providers. Many providers also may have a certificate from the National Certification Commission for Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine. This is a non-profit group that promotes standards in acupuncture and Oriental medicine. Ask your doctor and friends for recommendations.

 You also may want to pick a provider who:

  • Will work on a treatment plan with you, your doctor, and other health professionals
  • Clearly explains what he or she is doing during treatment
  • Explains how often you may need treatment and how much it will cost

 

BRO-Logo-colorBlue Ridge Orthopaedic & Spine Center has on-site state-of-the-art technology to diagnosis and treat orthopaedic conditions. For your convenience, both of our offices are equipped with in-office radiology departments. Not only does this facilitate rapid diagnosis but it is also convenient for patients who may be experiencing pain or disability at the time of their visit. To schedule an appointment with one of our board-certified and fellowship trained physicians, call our Warrenton  office at (540-347-9220) or our Gainesville office at (703-743-2814). Or Click here to make an appointment.

 

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