How does acupuncture work for pain?

This blog is a response to a Q&A I put out there on Instagram. I wanted people to ask me basic questions about Chinese Medicine. I love Chinese Medicine and I’d like to remove all barriers to access and a big part of the barrier is that people don’t understand what’s going on the Chinese Medicine. A few of the questions I got were “How does acupuncture work?” and this is what I’d like to address in this VLOG.

How does acupuncture work is obviously a big question and it has a big answer. So I’m going to explain it just in terms of pain for now because it will give us the same basic concepts and principle. I posted a picture on Instagram of my friend who I had given acupuncture to. We were on a trip and on the very last day she rolled her ankle. This is something that she frequently reinjures so I thought I would give her some acupuncture at the restaurant we were having lunch at.

I’d like to explain how acupuncture works for pain using her as an example.

She rolled her left ankle. I like to think about energy as a grid. Whenever there is pain we are going to have stagnation or a deficiency. Basically, we are going to have an imbalance of the flow of the life force or Qi or energy, whatever word you want to use to describe it. And we always want to bring life force to an area so that we can flourish and be pain-free.

If you think about a scale because we’re always looking at balancing, If I hold my arms out to represent a scale then If the scale is out of balance here at the right elbow, it will show an equal imbalance or torque on the left elbow.

In her case, the pain was on the left ankle. So if I stretch out my body then the equal parts of that scale will be the right wrist. And that is what we are going to treat to start, the right wrist.  What you want to think about is that it will be the same equal distance to the midline. Likewise, if the elbow is off we would treat the knee and vice versa. (see the video)

So the pain is in the ankle. What we want to do is get that grid of energy moving starting with the wrist. I like to do cross body first, so left treats right and right treats left. That’s not always the case, but it’s always my first thought when treating pain and it’s typically the most effective way to treat pain, in my experience. The other benefit to this style is that if I treat the wrist, her ankle is freed up so we can test her range of motion and pain/discomfort levels so we actually know if we are treating the correct and imbalanced meridians.

I asked her where does she feel the pain? She said it was in the inside and just below her ankle bone – medial malleolus. So I paired the meridian that was running through the spot where she was feeling the pain in her lower body with a relationship of a meridian in the upper part of the body, at the wrist. (See the video if this is confusing, around the 3:00 mark).

She also mentioned that it was felt like it was a tendon or ligament. I thought that’s great, muscle treats muscle, tendon/ligament treats tendon/ligament, bone treat bone basically tissue treats tissue. So I thought okay how can I pair the meridian that is inflamed and in pain in her left ankle with a corresponding meridian in her right wrist that is also going to be near tendons and ligaments?

In this case, if you look at the base of your thumb (3:32 in video) and you move your thumb around you will see 2 tendons attaching the hand to the arm. In there, in the anatomical snuffbox (love that word!), is the point Large Intestine 5, which just happens to be in relationship to the injured meridian on her ankle. So I needled it.

In her case, and this doesn’t always happen, she had a full body response and she felt a bit weak so I gave her a moment to rest and when she was ready I had her move her ankle around and viola she didn’t feel any pain on the inside. The pain had moved to the outside of her ankle, it is very common for the pain to move. So what do we want to do? We want to chase that pain. I then went through the same line of questioning and thinking until we arrived at the needling of the point Small Intestine 5, which mirrored the outside of the ankle and again came in very close proximity with a tendon.

She had again a bit of an intense reaction and felt a lot of weakness in her Stomach which was very interesting I thought. I explained to her that the points I was needling were Large Intestine and Small Intestine so interesting that she was feeling it digestively and those were the points I chose. After the points died down in intensity I asked her to walk around and she could walk. She wasn’t limping anymore, she still felt a little bit of pain but she could walk with much more ease.

After that then I wanted to pull the life force through the injured meridians so we could get everything flushed through that space. I chose a couple of points that were distal to her areas of pain and she rested for a bit. She also noted that she felt a lot of heaviness in her arm, which is a very common response to the body healing itself.

One thing to note and THIS IS IMPORTANT!

It is important to stay off the injured area. We have interrupted the pain response going from the local area to the brain but the tissues themselves will still be inflamed. Acupuncture works well on inflammation but it does take time to get those physical structures back to normal, whereas the response to the way you are experiencing the pain can be immediate. The amount of time you will want to rest will depend on how chronic or acute it is as well as the severity of the injury and a person’s general health status.

In her case what would have been ideal is for her to stay off it for 24-36 hours and if I wasn’t leaving I would have treated her again.

There you have it, that’s the basic train of thought I use when using acupuncture to treat pain and it is incredibly effective. If you have questions or comments please reach out.

If you would like to dive deeper into how Chinese Medicine works, consider taking my 6-week course.

With love of the light and the dark within,

Paula