What does the new normal mean for you?
Living with chronic pain
Back in 2016, Pain UK (an alliance of charities providing a voice for people in pain) estimated there to be 28 million people in the UK who were living with chronic pain. More recent statistics suggest the figure may be closer to 50% of the UK’s population. These statistics are staggering, and the British Pain Society describes it as the silent epidemic. If the figures include you, you’ll know quite how life changing and debilitating chronic pain can be.
People with chronic pain include (but certainly aren’t limited to) people suffering from fibromyalgia, MS, arthritis, neck and back pain, and old injuries. Their descriptions of life vary, but make pretty bleak reading: relentless shooting pains, pains like an electric shock, burning pains, aching pains, soreness, tightness, or stiffness.
The impact is far reaching and not limited to physical symptoms. Chronic pain also affects emotions. It can cause fatigue, sleeplessness, and unsurprisingly, low moods such as anxiety, depression and fear. Chronic pain can affect your ability to concentrate and to work, it can limit your lifestyle and negatively impact your relationships.
Most suffers will tell you they have tried everything and more to relieve their symptoms. Some people even change their job, their bed or their car as well as their diet. They’ve also often tried a multitude of different treatments including prolonged use of pain killers and other medications.
What exactly is chronic pain?
Chronic pain is generally considered to be any pain that has been present in any part of the body for a period of 12 weeks or longer. It’s also been described as 'a major cause of disability and distress' and it comes in a number of different forms.
Chronic pain differs from other pain (normally known as acute pain) in a significant way. Acute pain normally signifies something…an injury, a burn, a cut. The pain acts as an alarm system and tells your brain via your nervous system that something is wrong, and you need to heal.
But if the pain persists beyond 12 weeks, it’s no longer serving that function. Chronic pain is an abnormal response and doesn’t improve with time. It’s complex and it’s often hard to get to the cause of the pain or find an effective treatment.
Can acupuncture help chronic pain?
My personal experience has long told me that acupuncture can help those suffering with chronic pain in a number of ways. And now, it would seem that mainstream institutions are finally beginning to accept this.
NICE (the National Institute of Health and Care Excellence) is in the process of reviewing its guidelines in respect of the treatment of chronic pain. In their draft guidance published last month, NICE have said, “people with a type of chronic pain called chronic primary pain should be offered supervised group exercise programmes, some types of psychological therapy, or acupuncture.”
Interestingly, NICE have also concluded that paracetamol, non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, benzodiazepines or opioids should not be offered “because, while there was little or no evidence that they made any difference to people’s quality of life, pain or psychological distress, there was evidence that they can cause harm, including possible addiction.”
Up until now, NICE only recommended considering acupuncture as a treatment option for chronic tension-type headaches and migraines. This new guidance is currently open for consultation until the 14th September, but it’s hoped that it will be finalised by early next year (2021).
An increasingly popular treatment
This change in approach by NICE should come as no surprise. Acupuncture is already used in many NHS GP practices, as well as in most pain clinics and hospices in the UK. It’s included on the NHS website and it’s often used to treat musculoskeletal conditions (of the bones and muscles) and pain conditions, including:
· chronic pain, such as neck pain
· joint pain
· dental pain
· postoperative pain
How acupuncture works
Most people know that acupuncture involves the insertion of tiny needles into specific areas. A Western interpretation of what happens next is that the needles stimulate the sensory nerves under the skin and in the muscles, helping to produce natural pain-relieving endorphins and activate parasympathetic nervous system which is responsible for “rest and relaxation” mode in our body. Therefore, tight muscles relax and the pain diminishes.
However, it shouldn’t be forgotten that traditional acupuncture is based on the belief that an energy known as Qi, or "life force", flows through the body in channels called meridians. When the Qi is disrupted or “blocked” it can cause problems, including pain but the practice of acupuncture can restore the Qi’s natural flow and balance, resulting in improved health and wellbeing, and a reduction of pain.
The benefits of acupuncture
Traditional acupuncture can provide benefits for both the pain itself and the emotional fall out of chronic pain, such as anxiety, fear and stress. It is also a very safe and natural treatment which requires no medication and many patients report a greatly improved sense of wellbeing and calm after treatments.
The whole person approach
The new guidance from NICE also puts emphasis on “the importance of putting the patient at the centre of their care…[of] understanding of how pain is affecting a person’s life and those around them because knowing what is important to the person is the first step in developing an effective care plan.”
This is of course nothing new for those that practice acupuncture. I’ve written before about how acupuncture treats the patient as a whole, not just the pain, with a truly holistic approach. That means getting to know each patient and understanding their life and their lifestyle, and making suitable recommendations where I can. You could say, it’s nice to see mainstream medicine finally catching up the ancient theories of Chinese medicine.
Find out more
It’s been a tough year for us all, and few of us will come through it unscathed. But if you’ve been living with chronic pain, this doesn’t necessarily have to be your “new normal”. Why don’t you give me a call to discuss whether acupuncture might be suitable for you?