With both positive research and rebuttal regarding acupuncture and its potential to ease chronic pain, let’s look at what it is and some key considerations.
If you’re one of the 3.6 million Australians living with chronic pain2, you might have considered or been told about acupuncture as an option for your pain management. Dr. Queenie Wu of B&Q Acupuncture in Subiaco, Western Australia, explains how acupuncture works, as well as the expected health benefits.
In this article
What is chronic pain?
Chronic pain is a form of persistent pain1 that lasts for more than 3 months (or beyond normal healing time). It can cause significant mental and physical distress and can be challenging to find effective treatment for.1 While everyone’s experience is different, there are three main categories of chronic pain:1
- Nociceptive pain (pain caused by tissue damage)
- Neuropathic pain (associated with nerve damage), and
- Nociplastic pain (pain with no clear evidence of tissue or nerve damage).
Chronic pain can be treated in different ways, including medications, exercise, diet, relaxation, and other therapies – one of those being acupuncture.
What is acupuncture and how does it work?
Acupuncture is an alternative physical therapy that originated in China over 2,000 years ago. The therapy applies thin metal needles into the skin at specific ‘acupoints’ to stimulate the nerves.3 An acupuncture therapist may use different methods in therapy including:4
- Inserting metal needles into the skin
- Manual manipulation
- Using lasers instead of needles
- Electrical stimulation
Dr Queenie Wu is an acupuncture practitioner with a Masters degree in Traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) from the Guangzhou University of Traditional Chinese Medicine.
“From the TCM perspective, the body is considered as a whole. Parts of the body and organs are linked through meridians, or channels,” says Dr Wu.
Meridians refer to a complex system carrying qi (energy) and blood through the body.
It’s similar to how a river flows. An obstruction along the river produces illness downstream. Acupuncture helps restore the flow, says Dr Wu.
Acupuncture is a complementary therapy; meaning they are usually outside of evidence-based, conventional medicine. Preclinical studies have documented acupuncture’s effects, but they have not been able to fully explain how acupuncture works within the framework of the western system of medicine.7
After acupuncture – does it hurt?
Although you may feel the small needles, acupuncture is not usually painful. The needles are a lot thinner than those used to draw blood.3 Acupuncture is generally considered to be safe for most people but as with most treatments it can carry some risk. To understand potential side effects and if acupuncture may be suitable for you, discuss with your doctor.
What are the potential benefits of acupuncture for chronic pain?
Acupuncture is often used as a complementary therapy for pain. It is generally well-tolerated with minimal side effects and considered safe when administered by a suitably trained practitioner. Clinical guidelines published in different countries have found that acupuncture is moderately helpful in a range of conditions, particularly those which involve pain.6
Queenie advises her clients that use acupuncture can lead them to feel:
- Deeply relaxed
- A reduction in pain
- An increase in emotions
- Feeling a lot calmer
Some other reasons you might try acupuncture
Dr. Queenie suggests talking to your doctor about acupuncture as a potential complementary therapy for conditions such as:
- Neurological & musculoskeletal disorders
- Fertility, period pain & PMS
Traditional Chinese Medicine practitioners believe there are up to 2,000 points. These points are used to stimulate and treat pain and other ailments in corresponding parts of the body.7
How often should you get acupuncture?
According to the Australian Natural Therapists Association, the number of acupuncture appointments you may need will vary. Some people only may only have a few appointments, but some chronic conditions may take longer to treat.5
What to do before your appointment.
Talk to you doctor if you are considering using acupuncture treatment. It is a good idea to check that you are seeing an accredited acupuncturist3, and you can check search for registered Chinese medicine practitioners on the AHPRA website .
Here are Dr Wu’s tips about what to do before an appointment:
- Eat about two hours before your appointment
- Avoid caffeine two hours before your appointment
- Don’t schedule your appointment on a busy day
- Arrive early
- Drink plenty of water
- Wear loose-fitting, comfortable clothing
Acupuncture can be a good complement to traditional medicine when it comes to chronic pain management for some. Ask your doctor whether acupuncture may be suitable for you.
Don't put up with pain
If you're experiencing chronic pain, you could be covered for visits to see specialists, like an Exercise Physiologist, a Physio, or for therapies such as acupuncture.
Find out more
This article contains general information only and does not take into account the health, personal situation or needs of any person. In conjunction with your GP or treating health care professional, please consider whether the information is suitable for you and your personal circumstances.