Pain comes in many different shapes and sizes. Pain can rear its ugly head as mild discomfort that "comes and goes" or severe, excruciating agony that takes our breath away. Pain may be completely debilitating, interfering with exercise, work, sleep, and countless other activities or it may be a minor nuisance that doesn't slow us down at all. It can be the result of a specific incident or it can seemingly come from nowhere. Pain is even described with a wide range of terms, including soreness, aching, tenderness, burning, tightness, or throbbing.
We have all experienced some type of physical pain at one time or another. Yet, even though we all know what pain is, it can still be difficult to actually define. It is usually described as an unpleasant sensory experience and it is incredibly common in our society. Half of all Americans seek medical care for pain each year and it is the most common reason for visiting a doctor.
Despite our disdain for pain, it actually serves a purpose, and a valuable one at that. Pain is part of our body's defense system and its purpose is to help us avoid harmful behavior. In other words, it's your body's way of telling you that it doesn't like what you are doing and it would prefer that you stop doing it. Sometimes we choose not to listen to that message and other times we have no choice but to hear it and comply.
What are the common approaches for relieving pain? Drugs are very popular for pain relief and they can be very effective. Unfortunately, the adverse effects of numerous drugs have become known in recent years and many of us find the information troubling. Pain relief medications can lead to gastrointestinal complications, liver damage, or kidney reactions. In addition, some pain relief drugs have already been taken off the market because of an increased risk of heart attack or stroke.
Increasingly, people are looking for more natural approaches to help relieve painful conditions. Acupuncture is one natural approach that continues to grow in popularity in the United States. Acupuncture can be helpful for all types of pain, regardless of what is causing the pain or where the pain is located. The theory behind acupuncture and Chinese medicine states that there is an energy that flows through the human body. This energy can become obstructed for a variety of different reasons. When this occurs, the obstruction results in pain or discomfort. This is summed up by the well-known Chinese saying: "If there is pain, there is no free flow; if there is free flow, there is no pain." The goal with treatment is to clear the obstructions by inserting extremely thin, sterile needles into certain specific points on the body.
From a more scientific point of view, acupuncture has been shown to trigger the release of endorphins and enkephalins, chemicals with pain relieving properties. Other theories propose that acupuncture needles jam the neuronal pathways and prevent pain signals from reaching the brain. The World Health Organization (WHO), in its 2002 report entitled Acupuncture: Review and Analysis of Reports on Controlled Clinic Trials, stated that acupuncture "can be regarded as the method of choice for treating many chronically painful conditions." This is not to say that acupuncture is a miracle cure for everyone. It is not. But it would be wise for all of us to become educated about available pain relief options, including non-drug options. Armed with this information, we can make informed decisions which are most suitable for our own unique situations.
By Peter Games L. Ac., Dipl. O.M.
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