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.

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