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Chronic Pain and Community Acupuncture

Thursday, September 17th, 2015

by Stef Cordes and Lisa Baird

1 in 5 Canadians report daily chronic pain, according to the Canadian Pain Society. Pain is the most common reason that people seek health care and accounts for up to 78% of visits to the emergency department. 50% of people on pain clinic wait lists have moderate to severe levels of depression, and 34% report thinking about suicide.

Chronic pain can result from an initial injury or infection, or there might be an ongoing cause of pain. But some people suffer from chronic pain without any past injury or evidence of body damage. Pain signals can remain active in the nervous system for weeks, months, or years, for no clear reason. Clinicians still know very little about how or why acute pain becomes chronic pain, and once the pain becomes chronic, they don`t know a lot about how to treat it.

Despite the urgent demand for effective relief, chronic pain is poorly managed in Canada.  The average wait time to see a pain specialist at a publicly funded pain clinic can be over a year. Chronic pain has been shown to affect our immune system, our ability to sleep, eat, think, and move, our mood and emotional state, and our overall ability to function.

If you live with chronic pain, this is probably not news to you.

Pain is the number one reason people come to us for treatment. Acupuncture has long been recognized as effective treatment for all kinds of pain, and our sliding scale ($20-$40) allows people to access regular treatment, which is necessary in order for acupuncture to be effective. We have three important things to say on the topic of treating chronic pain:

We believe what you tell us.

We know we can’t tell by looking at you or your daily activities how much pain you’re in. People often learn to cope with incredibly high levels of pain, just because they have to. We are awed and humbled by our patients’ capacity to keep on going.

Acupuncture is a simple tool.

One of the great things about acupuncture is that we don’t need a detailed explanation of why you’re in pain, in order to treat it effectively. We know that chronic pain can be a baffling experience. But to treat it, we just ask you where it hurts and how much it hurts.

Acupuncture helps with other things that often accompany chronic pain.

Pain can contribute or be a causal factor for mood imbalances–it’s not surprising that hurting all the time can make us depressed and/or anxious. Luckily many people who come through our door find that acupuncture does wonders for their mood.

Chronic pain is also absolutely exhausting. We have had clients who are way too sore to get a good night’s sleep, but who are able to rest deeply in our chairs. Pain and our fight or flight system are closely related, although science today cannot explain exactly why. Acupuncture reliably eases the body from flight or flight mode into rest-and-digest mode, which makes it an excellent tool for breaking the vicious cycle of pain → tension → worse pain. Our recliners offer not only pain relief but also deep rest in the company of other people – some of whom are also dealing with chronic pain.

If you have questions about how acupuncture can help you manage chronic pain, please get in touch.

A women sets needles into a patient's leg while patient reclines with closed eyes in a recliner. Another patient sleeps in another in the background.

Patient receiving treatment (photo by David James Hudson)

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GIA