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Pain | Electroacupuncture for Pain Relief

Electroacupuncture for Pain Relief

Acupuncture is an increasingly popular choice for many individuals seeking to reduce or eliminate pain. Some clinical evidence exists to support acupuncture’s success, and a number of additional clinical trials are currently underway at the National Institutes of Health (NIH). In a consensus statement, NIH reports that acupuncture may be effective in a wide range of painful conditions, including headache, menstrual cramps, tennis elbow, fibromyalgia, myofascial pain, osteoarthritis, low back pain and carpal tunnel syndrome. In the results of a small clinical study published in the British Medical Journal, March 2004, acupuncture was found to be effective for patients with chronic headaches, particularly migraines. In comparison to the control patients, those receiving acupuncture treatments used 15 percent less medication, made 25 percent fewer visits to practitioners and took 15 percent fewer sick days.

One alternative to acupuncture: electroacupuncture

While acupuncture may be widely recognized for its success in relieving pain, electroacupuncture is less known in the U.S. Sue Yang, licensed acupuncturist and faculty member at Bastyr Center for Natural Health, reports that during her three months working in a trauma unit in a hospital in China, she witnessed electroacupuncture being used on the majority of patients with great success.

Electroacupuncture is most effective for pain that is sharp, stabbing or shooting, Yang explains. It’s helpful for stroke victims, especially where there is paralysis on one side, as well as Bell’s palsy and multiple sclerosis. In China, says Yang, it’s sometimes used for dental anesthesia. For dull or throbbing pain, moxa or cupping along with acupuncture may be more effective.

How does electroacupuncture work?

As is crucial for all treatments for pain, Yang indicates, communication between patient and practitioner is important in determining the nature and source of the pain. Is the pain from an old trauma, is it from wear and tear, or is it structural? After palpating the patient for tender points and placing the needles, leads from an electrostimulator machine are clipped to the needles. Beginning with a very low setting, the patient is asked if he feels a “tap tap” sensation. The setting may be raised slightly, checking at each step if the patient can tolerate the sensation and backing off if it becomes uncomfortable. At a comfortable point, 5-10 minutes of treatment will take place, and then the patient will be asked if the sensation has diminished, in which case, the setting may be raised slightly for another 10 minutes or so.

The procedure works by releasing endogenous opiates into the brain — the “feel-good chemicals,” as Yang characterizes them. The body is affected on a tissue level and a cellular level as well.

Normally, Yang wouldn’t try electroacupuncture on a first time patient, although if a first-time patient reported severe pain, she would consider it. Otherwise, she would try regular acupuncture with needles first. How soon the patient can become pain-free is very individualized but, Yang says, usually less than six treatments brings success.

Writer: Bastyr Staff Writer
Contributor: Sue Yang, LAc
Date: 2004

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The health information contained in this site is not intended as medical advice and should not be considered a substitute for appropriate medical care. Any products mentioned in studies cited in Healthnotes articles are not necessarily endorsed by Bastyr. As with any product, consult with a natural health practitioner to discuss what may be best for you.


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