Acupuncture as an Effective Pain Reliever


When pain isn’t properly managed, it can have a lasting negative effect on your quality of life as well as the quality of life of family, friends and colleagues. Fortunately, acupuncture is a proven method of providing pain relief and studies continue to highlight acupuncture’s effectiveness at relieving chronic low back pain, chronic neck pain, and migraines, as well as reducing the amount of pain medication needed to control the pain. Women suffering from pelvic pain, endometriosis, dysmenorrhea, and infertility also benefit from receiving acupuncture, as it helps to balance hormones and remove obstructions that contribute to pain by regulating qi and blood pathways. As an alternative to pharmaceutical drugs, this study reports a treatment effectiveness rate as high as 90% with the combination of acupuncture and customized Chinese herbal prescriptions.


“Non-conventional medicine has become very popular in western countries in recent years. Acupuncture, a traditional Chinese medicine procedure, is well tolerated and free of relevant side effects and has been approved by FDA. Acupuncture is commonly used to treat chronic pelvic pain, and its use has been recently recommended by the National Institute of Health for the treatment of several diseases, including dysmenorrhea.” (Evidence-based Complementary and Alternative Medicine, 2008)

Acute vs Chronic Pain and How Acupuncture can Help

Acute pain is a warning that you have been hurt: it starts suddenly, the injury heals within weeks, and the pain stops. The pain in acute injury is due to pressure from inflammation in the tissues and nerves at the site of the injury. This inflammation leads to visible swelling that is part of the body’s healing response. During the acute phase of injury, acupuncture can support the body’s natural healing response to the injury and stimulate the release of natural painkillers, called enkephalins and endogenous opioids.

Chronic pain is pain that lasts longer than 4 to 6 weeks and continues after the injury has healed. This pain can last for weeks, months, even years. In chronic injury, nerve signals activated during acute injury continue to send messages that the body is in pain, potentially due to nerves that have become damaged. New research is suggesting that chronic pain may come from a malfunction in the way the brain ‘maps’ sensory information.

Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDS) are the first-line treatment for pain and the most commonly used pain medication in the world. When NSAIDS are used by healthy people for even short periods of time, the risk of acute heart attack increases. Aside from the risk of increased cardiovascular disorders, NSAID-induced damage to the small bowel (among other gastrointestinal effects) are well known by physicians and medical providers.

Acupuncture is a potent medicine for pain relief for many types of pain, including the three most common sources of chronic pain that negatively impact quality of life: low back pain, neck pain, and severe migraine or headache pain. Chronic pain impacts our sleep and the lack of restorative sleep increases pain and perpetuates the cycle of pain and insomnia. Acupuncture is widely known for its effectiveness in the treatment of both acute and chronic pain, and is a safe alternative to the dangerous side effects of drugs.

How Does Acupuncture Play an Important Role in Reducing the Effects of Opioid Drugs?

As a result of the current epidemic we are facing with opioid abuse, medical institutes are looking to acupuncture to help solve the issue. Acupuncture has been shown to stimulate the release of natural painkillers such as enkephalins and endogenous opioids that help to mitigate the body’s response to pain.

According to a study published in Evidence-based Complementary and Alternative Medicine, “several brain neurotransmitter systems such as serotonin, opioid and amino acids including GABA have been implicated in the modulation of dopamine release by acupuncture.” The study further states that “it has been generally accepted that acupuncture treatment can contribute to the biochemical balance in the central nervous system and maintenance or recovery of homeostasis.”

What Is Known About the Biological Effects of Acupuncture That Helps Us Understand How It Works?

Manual acupuncture combined with thermotherapy promotes healing by increasing vasodilation and stimulating Nitric Oxide (NO) release over skin regions, and this predominantly happens at acupuncture points. Elevated NO improves local circulation that allows for a flush of analgesic or sensitizing substances, which contribute to local warmth and beneficial effects of the therapies. (Evidence-based Complementary and Alternative Medicine)

“Many studies in animals and humans have demonstrated that acupuncture can cause multiple biological responses. These responses can occur locally, i.e., at or close to the site of application, or at a distance, mediated mainly by sensory neurons to many structures within the central nervous system. This can lead to activation of pathways affecting various physiological systems in the brain as well as in the periphery. A focus of attention has been the role of endogenous opioids in acupuncture analgesia. Considerable evidence supports the claim that opioid peptides are released during acupuncture and that the analgesic effects of acupuncture are at least partially explained by their actions.” (NIH, 1997)

Acupuncture Analgesia Research

“The mechanisms underlying how acupuncture is…effective for treating pain have been researched extensively for over 60 years. While there is still much left to learn about acupuncture mechanisms and the human body in general, the neural pathways from acupuncture point stimulation, to the spinal cord to the deactivation of the pain centers in the brain have been mapped. Acupuncture has been demonstrated to activate a number of the body’s own opioids as well as improving the brain’s sensitivity to opioids. A number of other biochemicals involved in pain reduction have been found to be released or regulated by acupuncture stimulation, including ATP and adenosine, GABA and substance P. In the context of ineffective and often dangerous pharmaceutical options for pain, acupuncture represents a safe and effective alternative with a long track-record of successful use.” (Evidence Based Acupuncture)

Although more research is needed regarding the mechanisms of how acupuncture relieves pain, the bottom line is that acupuncture is well-tolerated and effective at pain reduction for most people. Achieving the goal of chronic pain relief requires a longer treatment plan than acute pain, but most people achieve noticeable pain relief by the 6th visit.