A Point Worth Considering Eastern Medicine and Pain Management
This month, my fiancée, Bela, is planning a big trip to Bangkok, Thailand, with her friends. She’ll be gone for a few weeks, and while I’m going to miss Bela a lot, I’m excited for her to be able to go on this trip. I went to Thailand myself some years ago, though I was there for business and didn’t get to spend too much time outside the conference room. After three days, all I can really tell you about Thailand is it’s hot, they drive on the opposite side of the road than we do in the United States, and one restaurant I ate at had frog legs on the menu, which I was told tasted like chicken. Not that I have any regrets about my trip. The conference in question was about pain management, and it focused specifically on lumbar disc herniation and how advancements in technology can help treat the pain without surgery. It was an interesting conference that brought in doctors from around the world. Funny enough, when I mention having attended a conference in Thailand, some people assume the conference must have been about traditional Eastern medicine. I can’t say I know much about Eastern medicine myself, but the topic is fascinating, especially if you look specifically at the popular practice of acupuncture. Of course, acupuncture originated in China and not Thailand, but it’s still an interesting practice in regard to pain management. I’ve never received acupuncture treatment myself, though I have read a number of studies supporting the treatment’s effectiveness. Though acupuncture has been practiced for almost 3,000 years, it can be difficult to pinpoint — pun intended — exactly what makes the practice effective. While you’ll hear terms like “qi” or “flow of energy” around acupuncture, the Harvard Health Blog points out that modern science equates these ancient beliefs to “neurotransmitters, hormone levels, or the immune system.” A popular theory suggests acupuncture needles encourage the body to release “feel-good” chemicals which help soothe pain. One study published in the journal Anesthesia & Analgesia showed higher levels of beta-endorphins in the bloodstream after subjects received acupuncture treatment. Other studies insist the body’s stress
response system, the nerve reflect theory, or even the placebo effect are responsible for acupuncture’s effectiveness.
While the science is still out on why acupuncture works, there is plenty of research to support the fact that acupuncture does work. The National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health cites research that has shown acupuncture “ease types of pain that are often chronic such as low back pain, neck pain, and osteoarthritis/knee pain.” Additionally, Andrew Vickers, a biostatistician at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, co-authored a meta-analysis in acupuncture trials and identified a significant benefit. “We saw a measurable effect there,” he stated. “If acupuncture were a drug, we’d say the drug works.” I don’t offer acupuncture at my office, but in the past, I have recommended acupuncture to patients whom I believed could benefit from the treatment. Based on the research, I believe it’s an avenue worth pursuing, especially if a patient is dealing with chronic pain. Dr. Chi Izeogu
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