An Ancient Remedy for Modern Ills

Armen Hareyan's picture

Acupuncture Pain Relief

If the pain in your neck is not responding to modern medicines, you may want to try an ancient answer - acupuncture.

"Acupuncture can relieve pain in many areas of the body," said Dr. John Cianca, assistant professor of physical medicine and rehabilitation at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston. "Along with traditional medicine, I use it to treat a variety of acute problems such as ankle sprains, muscle spasms or arthritis. I only recommend it for patients who I believe will benefit most from it. Even then, two people with the same problem may have different outcomes."

Acupuncture is an ancient Eastern healing philosophy that's been in practice for more than 2,500 years. It has increasingly moved into the Western mainstream as millions of Americans use it for pain relief or other conditions. It is thought that an essential life energy called "qi" (pronounced chee) runs through the body in channels called meridians. These meridians connect internal organs with each other and with the surface of the body. If qi is blocked, pain or illness can result. Acupuncturists insert sterile hair-thin needles into specific points along the meridians to release blocked qi and restore its balance within the body.


Cianca begins an acupuncture session by talking with his patients to learn how well they have responded to past treatments. Then the patient lies on a padded table while Cianca inserts sterile needles into points of the body, which correspond to the condition being treated - but not necessarily in the area where pain is felt. Most patients say they feel a pinch or a slight sting as the needles enter. Cianca says he feels a tightening of the area when he reaches the correct acupuncture point.

No one knows for sure just how acupuncture works. Some believe it relieves pain by stimulating pain-killing endorphins. But Cianca believes it works at a molecular level rather than on a cellular or systems level.

"Acupuncture stimulates the body's own energy in such a way as to promote a balanced state. In doing so, the body is able to function more normally," he said. "The premise is that the needles have their own electrical charges which interact with the electrical activity within the body to adjust the way energy travels in the body. Acupuncture points act like gates or switches to allow this interaction between needle and the body."

Cianca agrees that acupuncture does not work for everyone. But he sees many patients who prefer to treat their pain with acupuncture rather than taking strong pain medications that can have side effects.