Should I try Acupuncture for Pain Management?

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acupuncture for pain

A conversation with Acupuncture Physician Dr. Su Thi Ho Campo

If you live with a condition that causes chronic pain, such as fibromyalgia or rheumatoid arthritis, you may have considered trying acupuncture for pain management. In fact, acupuncture has become increasingly accepted as treatment for many common types of pain, and is now covered by several insurance companies in the United States, including Blue Cross Blue Shield, United and Aetna, depending on your specific policy.

I sat down with Dr. Su Thi Ho Campo, licensed Acupuncture Physician and Doctor of Oriental Medicine in the state of Florida, to get a better understanding of what conditions acupuncture treats, and what to expect on your first visit.

What Conditions Does Acupuncture Treat?

Most commonly, acupuncture is used for pain management, particularly neck and back pain. While acupuncture for pain is common, it can also be used in conjunction with fertility treatments, and actually doubles a person’s chance of success.

Additionally, Dr. Su, as well as many acupuncturists around the country, works very closely with Veterans Affairs (VA) hospitals, which will send veterans over for acupuncture treatment in lieu of pharmaceutical (opioid) treatment.

In some states that have been hit hard by the opioid crisis, Medicaid programs are even starting to cover acupuncture treatment for pain for low-income patients.

Additionally, Dr. Su works closely with Moffitt Cancer Center and Florida Cancer Specialists to treat cancer patients. Sometimes she treats cancer pain, but more commonly acupuncture is used to treat symptoms of cancer treatment, such as digestive issues or insomnia.

How Does Acupuncture for Pain Work?

Acupuncture is a type of Traditional Chinese Medicine that was around 3,500 years before traditional Western medicine even existed. In an acupuncture treatment session, needles, heat and pressure are applied to specific points on the body.

The original idea behind acupuncture is that it redirects the body’s natural energy, or chi (aka qi), because when the energy is off balance, illnesses and pain occur.

There are over 1,000 points on the body, and acupuncture works with twelve major nerve pathways, each named after an organ. For example, there is a heart pathway, liver pathway, spleen pathway and so on. Treatment not only works to reduce inflammation, but also optimizes organ function. Because of this, Dr. Su recommends it as a preventative treatment to maintain good health. “The best candidate is someone who has no pain,” she says. “It’s much easier to maintain health than it is to treat symptoms.”

More often, acupuncture is used to treat existing conditions, including: headaches, migraines, allergies, digestive issues (such as IBS or acid regurgitation) and, as mentioned earlier, general pain management.

“Any time there is inflammation in the body, acupuncture can help.” Dr. Su said. “Studies have shown that during treatment there are increased levels of serotonin and endorphins in the body, which help reduce the cortisone levels, and therefore reduce inflammation.”

Acupuncture is often combined with other forms of therapy. Sometimes Dr. Su will incorporate electro stimulation, cupping techniques, ultrasounds, homeopathic remedies, Chinese herbs and essential oils with the acupuncture, depending on a patient’s specific needs.

What Does Acupuncture Feel Like?

“15 minutes of acupuncture feels like three hours of sleep,” Dr. Su said. During acupuncture treatment, your body is in such a parasympathetic resting state that it is resting and healing without responding to any external factors.

The procedure itself is not painful. “The acupuncture needle itself is really tiny, smaller than the follicle of your hair,” Dr. Su explains. It is a different sensation all together than what you would experience from a syringe needle. Sometimes the acupuncture needle will go into a patient’s pores and they won’t feel anything at all. Other times, especially when a needle is placed into an area that is blocked, a patient might feel a sensation, such as tingling or warming that radiates up and down that particular pathway.

How Many Treatments do I Need Before I Feel Better?

Everyone varies and responds differently to treatment. Dr. Su asks new patients to come in twice a week for the first two weeks to see how they respond, and what type of treatments they respond to best.

There are two different types of treatment, local and distal. Local treatment is when acupuncture needles are placed directly into the area of the body that is in pain, whereas distal is when the needles are placed in areas of the body other than the spot that is in pain.

Am I a Candidate for Acupuncture Treatment?

If you have one of the aforementioned conditions or are experiencing symptoms and are interested in treatment for pain management, find a local acupuncturist to see if you’re a good candidate for treatment. As Dr. Su mentioned, the best time to go in for treatment is when you’re feeling good, because it’s easier to maintain health than to treat symptoms.

When looking for an acupuncturist, seek out someone who is licensed in the state in which they are practicing. Many states allow people with a certification to practice, however finding someone who is licensed means that they have had to take the same board exams as everyone else, and the process to get license is much more uniform than a certification.

Acupuncture for pain is not a substitute for your current pain treatment, but rather is something that can be integrated within your current pain management plan. For more information, speak with your primary care doctor, or visit Dr. Su’s website at ewctampa.com.

About Dr. Su Thi Ho Campo

Dr. Su Thi Ho CampoDr. Su Thi Ho Campo, A.P. attended Texas A&M University where she majored in Nutritional Science before transferring to Florida College of Integrative Medicine to study Traditional Chinese Medicine. Dr. Su Thi Ho Campo is a licensed Acupuncture Physician and Doctor of Oriental Medicine in the state of Florida.

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