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Acupuncture: An Alternative Method for Pain Relief

Although not a drug, acupuncture is a centuries-old method for relieving pain and other ailments that is growing increasingly popular in today's culture. The history of acupuncture has been traced back as far as the Stone Age, when stone knives and pointed rocks were used to help relieve pain. The method originated in ancient China over 4,000 years ago but wasn't introduced to the West until the 1970s when President Richard Nixon, along with a reporter for the New York Times, traveled to China and witnessed an appendectomy surgery that was performed using acupuncture as the sole anesthetic.1

The method of acupuncture was originally developed on the theory that there are channels (called "meridians," of which there are 14 to be exact) and specific points in the body through which mental, physical, and spiritual energy (which the Chinese call Qi, pronounced "chee") flows. When the flow of Qi through these channels and points is disrupted, the Chinese theorize that pain and illness result. In order to correct the flow of Qi, very fine sterile needles inserted into specific points of the body reestablish the flow of Qi and balance the opposing forces of nature known as yin and yang.

When acupuncture needles are inserted into the skin, the patient feels a slight sensation of touch, but no pain (if there is pain, the needle is likely in the wrong place). Once inserted, the acupuncturist can manipulate the needles by rotating or vibrating them to achieve the desired effect, or may simply leave the needles in the skin for a set period of time. Most often, when acupuncture is used for the relief of pain, small wires are connected to the needles to deliver small electrical impulses (usually only a few microamps and at a frequency of 5-2000 Hertz (impulses per second). Higher frequencies are used for major surgical procedures, whereas lower frequencies are used for general pain relief.

Acupuncture, an ancient Chinese form of pain relief, involves placing needles at specific points on the body.

Acupuncture is primarily used as a local anesthetic for back, shoulder, or neck pain; headaches; arthritis; carpal tunnel syndrome; and other ailments such as infertility, menopause, ear infections—even drug addiction. The procedure is remarkably effective, showing substantial pain relief in at least 80% of people who try it. Some hospitals, primarily those in the Far East, use acupuncture as an anesthetic for major abdominal or cardiothoracic surgeries. Some of the advantages of acupuncture are that it is safer than general anesthetics (since it does not disrupt breathing or cardiovascular functioning), allows faster post-operative recovery, and is very inexpensive. One disadvantage, however, is that acupuncture does not relax the skeletal muscles of the body and makes abdominal surgical procedures very difficult. In addition, acupuncture is not yet accepted enough in the West as a valid medical procedure (the FDA currently classifies it as an "investigational" device), and is therefore not covered by most insurance companies. Acupuncturists are usually licensed independently by specialized acupuncture schools, but some states in the United States require a medical degree in order to practice acupuncture legally.

From a biological point of view, how does acupuncture actually work to relieve pain? Currently, scientists and physicians have no idea. There is, however, no shortage of theories on the physiological basis of acupuncture. Some believe that acupuncture stimulates the release of endorphins and neurotransmitters such as serotonin and norepinephrine from nerve cells, which act to dull pain sensations (as described elsewhere in this book). Another popular theory is the "Gate Theory," which states that the insertion of needles sends many nerve signals to the spinal cord, in essence overloading it with signals causing the sensory nerves in it to shut down and thus inhibit the flow of pain signals to the brain. For other ailments, acupuncture is thought to enhance the overall functioning of the immune system and to cause blood vessel dilation, increasing blood flow to specific areas of the body.

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Acetaminophen, 24, 28-31,40, 44, 93 Acetylsalicyclic acid (aspirin), 26-29, 93

Acupuncture, 94-97 Acute pain, 12 Addiction marijuana, 89 muscle relaxants, 62

opiates, 40, 48-49, 52-55 A-delta fibers, 20 Adler, C. R., 39 Allen, Rick, 10-11 Aloe vera, 78-80 Amitriptyline, 58 Amputation, 13 Analgesia definition, 18 patient-controlled, 46-47 Analgesics, 18 Anandamide, 88 Anesthesia, 18 acupuncture for, 96

epidural, 50-52, 70

local, 70-74 Anesthetics, 18 Angiotensin-convert-

ing enzyme, 64 Anti-epileptics. See Anticonvulsants Anticonvulsants,

58-60 Antidepressants,

57-58, 65, 86-87 Antipyretic, 26 Arnica, 80 Arthritis, 13-14, 82, 96

Aspirin, 26-29, 93

Aura, migraine headache, 16, 64 Avoidance behaviors, 9-12

Backache, 14, 96 Behavioral effects of pain, 9-12 Benzocaine, 71, 72 Beta blockers, 65 Blood clotting, 24,

26-27,31 BoTox (botulinum toxin), 62, 63 Brain opiate receptors, 43

in pain perception, 19,20,21-22 Brain tumors, 14-15 Bupivacaine, 71

Caffeine/NSAID combinations, 26, 31,68, 93 Calcitonin gene-related peptide, 66

Calcium channel blockers, 65 Cancer, and pain,

14-15 Cannabinoids, 88-89 Capsaicin (capsicum), 80-81 Carpal tunnel syndrome (CTS), 15, 74, 82 Celebrex (celecoxib), 35

Cerebral blood vessels, in migraine, 64, 66

Cerebral cortex, 19, 20, 21

C fibers, 20 Chicken pox virus, 17

Childbirth, epidural anesthesia in, 52 Chondroitin, 81-82 Chronic pain, 13-18 Clostridium botulinum, 62, 63 Cocaine, 71, 72 Codeine with acetaminophen (CoTylenol), 31, 40, 44 chemical structure, 41

dosage and uses, 44

isolation of, 38 Controlled Substances

Act, 90 Convulsions, 59 Corticosteroids, 23,

74-77 Cortisol, 76 Cortisone, 75 CoTylenol (acetaminophen + codeine), 31,40, 44 Cough medicines, opiates as, 39, 43 COX (cyclooxygenase),

nase-1), 34 COX-2 (cyclooxyge-nase-2) inhibitors, 34-35 CTS (carpal tunnel syndrome), 15, 74, 82

Cultural factors in pain tolerance, 12

Curcumin, 87

Cyclooxygenase. See

Epidural steroid injec

glucosamine, 82

COX (cyclooxy

tions, 74

kava, 85-86


Epilepsy, 59

lavender, 86

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Arthritis Joint Pain

Arthritis Joint Pain

Arthritis is a general term which is commonly associated with a number of painful conditions affecting the joints and bones. The term arthritis literally translates to joint inflammation.

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