Can Acupuncture Help with Pain? Ask the Dr. with Paresh Shelat of Pohala Clinic in Portland, Oregon

By Dr. Paresh H. Shelat, Naturopathic Physician and Licensed Acupuncturist at Pohala Clinic in Portland, OR. 

In my clinical opinion, absolutely.  Both acute and chronic pain account for a billion dollar industry. With many different therapeutic modalities and approaches to reduce pain, and subsequent disability resulting from pain, what are patients left to do? Ideally, INQUIRE and be CURIOUS. After all, it’s the job of any healthcare provider to inform patients of their treatment options and to educate them about pain and what it means to have pain so that we can come up with a healthy plan that reduces pain without adding the complications of medication side effects. In doing so, both the provider and patient can formulate a healthy plan that reduces pain without adding the potential complications of medication side effects.

The most common pain-related conditions I see in practice include:

    1. Low Back Pain: A majority of people have low back pain at some point in their life.  It’s also the most common musculoskeletal pain.
    2. Neck Pain / Mid-Back Pain.
    3. Shoulder Pain / Rotator Cuff Injuries.
    4. Knee Pain: Resulting from both acute injury or more systematic / degenerative problems such as osteoarthritis or autoimmune disease.
    5. Muscle Strains / Muscle Cramps.

What are the most common treatment options or treatment recommendations I typically see primary care providers use? Please note that there is nothing inherently wrong with the treatments in the list below. This is simply what I normally see in general health care and there is no question that they have their place in a pain management plan. My goal is to show a client all of his or her options.

    1. Pharmacologic Medications: NSAIDS, Muscle Relaxers, Opioids etc.
    2. Physical Therapy.
    3. Osteopathic / Chiropractic Care.
    4. Massage Therapy.

Why I add acupuncture to my list:

Acupuncture is the least invasive process I have found to help with acute and chronic pain.  Patients often don’t know to ask for acupuncture and are often surprised that insurance can cover the treatment depending on a person’s plan.

Acupuncture helps to reduce or minimize medications altogether as well as enhance other manual based therapeutic modalities such as physical therapy and massage. Why not try acupuncture first? It makes sense for anyone who wants a cost effective, natural treatment for pain. 

How Does Acupuncture Help Reduce Pain? 

Pain is multifactorial and spans across all aspects of healthcare: spiritual health, emotional health, mental health, physical health, and perhaps most importantly, our cognitive understanding of pain ( what it means to have pain.)  Additionally, lifestyle factors greatly impact pain and include: diet, self-care measures, cultural values, family, and external stressors of all kinds (e.g. relationships, finances, home, etc). 

Let me expand on this by briefly discussing my views on the western and eastern philosophy of acupuncture.

    • The Western Paradigm / Model: By introducing a novel stimulus (e.g. acupuncture) to the site of injury, we can impart change on the autonomic nervous system.  More precisely, we are able to provide the brain with information that is non-harmful and non-threatening. This in turn will change, and hopefully decrease, the output of pain by the brain.
    • The Eastern Paradigm / Model: Our body’s are made up of energy channels (e.g. meridians) that run up and down our body. These energy channels correspond to organs and organs systems (e.g stomach channel).  Acupuncture allows us to engage these energetic streams by needling (applying a very thin needle) specific locations to unblock and/or correct disrupted flow that may lead to pain syndromes. Furthermore, acupuncture provides us the opportunity to correct multiple imbalances at once while simultaneously supporting health on a multitude of levels as mentioned above.

Is Acupuncture Right For You?

There are times when more interventional based treatments are required (e.g. surgery) due to the extent of tissue injury.  The importance of proper evaluation (history and physical exam) cannot be over-emphasized.  By combining appropriate evaluation with physician-patient dialogue (e.g. education), often times, many patients can reduce recovery times of acute injuries, avoid unnecessary imaging, as well as reduce and significantly improve chronic pain syndromes. 

I would recommend each and every single patient to talk to a healthcare practitioner knowledgable about Chinese Medicine and how it can be integrated into your standard healthcare regimen. 

Perhaps, the most important decision you make is whether you allow yourself to be open-minded about the possibility of new ways to reduce pain and improve mobility.  I urge you to ask questions. I implore you to allow yourself the opportunity to become educated about pain. This is the first step to achieving your goals of having NO PAIN. 

In my practice at Pohala Clinic in Portland, OR, and given my background in naturopathic medicine and Chinese Medicine, I use a combination of treatment modalities to help my clients who have pain. These include but are not limited to: acupuncture, botanical medicine, homeopathy, nutraceuticals, naturopathic manipulative techniques, manual therapy, and much more! 

If you would like to learn more about ways in which you can reduce your pain, please schedule a visit at Pohala Clinic in Portland, OR. I look forward to learning more about you.