Are you in pain? Does pain impact your life on an almost daily basis? You are not alone.
Pain has an outsize impact on a large portion of our population in the United States and worldwide. Individually, it impacts our physical wellbeing and our ability to work effectively, enjoy life, earn a living and most importantly to express and receive love with those we cherish. As a populace, it reduces economic growth and productivity and costs us billions of dollars a year.
A 2016 study indicated that approximately 20% of adults (50 million people) in the United States had chronic pain that has been linked to restrictions to mobility and activities of daily living, opioid addiction, anxiety, depression and reduced quality of life. (Dahlhamer, et. al., 2018). Another study suggests that the national annual cost of pain in the United States is between $560 – $635 billion and is larger than the cost of the nation’s pre-Covid priority health concerns. (Gaskin, et. al., 2012). One study notes that the average loss of productivity per week at work due to chronic pain ranges from 2.4 hours for a single joint with pain up to 9.8 hours with multi-joint pain. (Kawai, et. al., 2017) From 1999 – 2016 over 630,000 people in the United States died from drug overdoses; most of these overdose deaths were due to opioid addictions that started with prescriptions for pain relief. (Bernard, et. al., 2018) An estimated 13% of the elderly suffer from chronic pain and depression. (Zis, et. al., 2017)
While these numbers can feel overwhelming, each of us who suffer chronic or acute pain are likewise overwhelmed with just trying to get through the day with as much ease as possible, if “ease” is something to which we can still even relate. Watching my own parents age and struggle with physical pain and disability was part of my own inspiration to study acupuncture later in life to help people with acute and chronic pain find relief.
Some of the causes that lead to acute and chronic pain include diseases like arthritis (rheumatoid, osteo and psoriatic), Lyme disease, cancer and many autoimmune diseases. There are also what I like to call the “user error” causes such as poor posture with computers and phones; in general I think of user error being when we are using the body in ways it was not intended or designed to be used. Additionally there is what I call “overuse,” which includes excessive exercise, stretching inappropriately to reach something and long hours of physical work on the job or at home on the weekend.
Many of my patients are people in pain. They report their doctors have offered them steroid shots, prescription drugs, physical therapy or surgery as options to relieve their pain. Often they tell me that physical therapy does not seem to be helping or that they do not want the shots, pills or surgery. Common diagnoses I see are fibromyalgia, rheumatoid arthritis, osteoarthritis, neck pain, shoulder pain, lower back pain, sciatica, migraines, tension headaches, other types of headaches, complex regional pain syndrome and pain in multiple joints (elbows, knees, wrists, ankles). All of these diagnoses generally fall into the broader category of chronic pain which can be defined as pain that persists more than 12 weeks. I also occasionally see patients who come in for acute pain derived from injury or accident; acute pain is defined as pain that resolves in less than 12 weeks.
The common diagnoses listed above can lead to additional symptoms of pain. For example, lower back pain can lead to pain, numbness or tingling radiating down the hip, leg and into the foot; neck and shoulder pain can lead to pain, numbness or tingling radiating down the arm and into the hand as well as migraines and other headache patterns. An additional complication of these common diagnoses is that when we feel pain in one part of the body, we tend to favor or protect that painful part leading to malfunction elsewhere; for example if we have a weak knee that tends not to sit naturally in the joint then we will likely have some misalignment of the other knee and consequently the hips, spine and ankles as well because the body as a whole adjusts to keep us standing up straight enough so that we do not lose our balance and fall down. The result of these micro misalignments are further pain in more body locations and loss of additional function and range of motion in the body.
Common side effects of chronic and acute pain include the inability to sleep well at night, fatigue, frustration, depression, irritability, anxiety, anger, reduced productivity at work and difficulty in some activities of daily living. Activities of daily living can include cleaning and dressing oneself, washing hair, cooking, cleaning, washing dishes, driving a car, lifting, holding, moving, walking and everything else we take for granted to be self-sufficient from a physical perspective.
Acupuncture and its associated tools can offer a solution to patients in pain without the need for opioids, other prescription drugs, shots or Botox. Better still, an acupuncturist who treats pain can treat the entire body including multiple areas of pain at the same time; this is surprising to many patients when I see them for the first time. A research article published in 2018 concluded that “Acupuncture is effective treatment of chronic musculoskeletal, headache and osteoarthritis pain. Treatment effects of acupuncture persists over time and cannot be explained solely in terms of placebo effects…acupuncture treatment is a reasonable option for a patient with chronic pain.” (Vickers, et. al., 2018) My experience over the past 12 years is that acupuncture is generally effective for treating a wide variety of pain conditions regardless of cause.
Bernard, S. A., Chelminski, P. R., Ives, T. J., & Ranapurwala, S. I. (2018). Management of Pain in the United States—A Brief History and Implications for the Opioid Epidemic. Health Services Insights. https://doi.org/10.1177/1178632918819440
Dahlhamer, J., Lucas, J., Zelaya, C., Nahin, R., Mackey, S., DeBar, L., Kerns, R., Von Korff, M., Porter, L., & Helmick, C. (2018). Prevalence of Chronic Pain and High-Impact Chronic Pain Among Adults – United States, 2016. MMWR. Morbidity and mortality weekly report, 67(36), 1001–1006. https://doi.org/10.15585/mmwr.mm6736a2
Gaskin, D. J., Richard, P., The Economic Costs of Pain in the United States, The Journal of Pain, 13(8), 2012, 715-724, ISSN 1526-5900, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jpain.2012.03.009
Kawai, K., Tse Kawai, A., Wollan, P., Yawn, B.P., Adverse impacts of chronic pain on health-related quality of life, work productivity, depression and anxiety in a community-based study, Family Practice, 34, (6), December 2017, 656–661, https://doi.org/10.1093/fampra/cmx034
Vickers, A. J., Vertosick, E. A., Lewith, G., MacPherson, H., Foster, N. E., Sherman, K. J., Irnich, D., Witt, C. M., Linde, K., & Acupuncture Trialists’ Collaboration (2018). Acupuncture for Chronic Pain: Update of an Individual Patient Data Meta-Analysis. The Journal of Pain, 19(5), 455–474. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jpain.2017.11.005
Zis, P., Daskalaki, A., Bountouni, I., Sykioti, P., Varrassi, G., & Paladini, A. (2017). Depression and chronic pain in the elderly: links and management challenges. Clinical Interventions in Aging, 12, 709–720. https://doi.org/10.2147/CIA.S113576