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Musculo-Skeletal Pain

acupuncture for chronic pain

Everyone is likely to experience some form of pain at some stage of their life. This could be acute pain due to injury of the neck, shoulder or back; sports injuries such as tennis elbow or frozen shoulders; or monthly pre-menstrual pain. Typical chronic pain conditions include osteoarthritis; rheumatoid arthritis; low back, shoulder & neck pain; headache & migraine; cancer pain; fibromyalgia; neuropathic pain (e.g. sciatica, trigeminal neuralgia, post shingles neuralgia); chronic overuse conditions (e.g. tendonitis); & chronic visceral pain (e.g. irritable bowel syndrome, interstitial cystitis, endometriosis). For instance, back pain can affect anyone at any age & most people will suffer from it at some point in their lives. It is the UK's leading cause of disability & one of the main reasons for work-related sickness absence.

Chronic Pain

In recent years high-quality clinical trials investigating acupuncture have been conducted, particularly for chronic pain conditions. Therefore, there is evidence available, & the systematic reviews can draw firm conclusions. A systematic review of high-quality trials, involving over 20,000 adults with osteoarthritis, chronic headache or musculoskeletal pain (back, neck or shoulder) concluded:

  • Acupuncture was more effective than control for all pain conditions (pragmatic trials)

  • Acupuncture is not a placebo for treatment of chronic pain

  • The effects persisted over time (15% reduction at one year)

Acupuncture is currently included in the following NICE guidelines:

Acupuncture may help relieve chronic pain by:

  • stimulating nerves located in muscles & other tissues, which leads to release of endorphins & other neurohumoral factors & changes the processing of pain in the brain & spinal cord 

  • modulating the limbic-paralimbic-neocortical network 

  • reducing inflammation, by promoting release of vascular & immunomodulatory factors

  • improving muscle stiffness & joint mobility by increasing local microcirculation, which aids dispersal of swelling.

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