Read this page carefully if you have condition(s) with pain
Bad (warning) pain and good (recovery) pain
Pain is often an important signal that your body is notifying you that there is something wrong and needs urgent attention. If you experience any unusual pain, it is certainly wise to consult with your doctor. We call it bad (warning) pain. However, it is also important to keep in mind that pain is also commonly associated with healing and recovery. We call this type of pain good (recovery) pain.
Here is an analogy that somewhat explains this healing recovery pain. If you have been sitting for a long time, your legs start to get tight and feel numb. This, as you know, is due to poor circulation (ischemic pain). There is some discomfort at this point, but it’s not very intense. Most of the discomfort occurs when you get up and start to walk around and blood flow is re-established (recovery pain). In some cases, it is necessary to go through some discomfort in order to get complete relief. Proper circulation in the tissue is important not only for blood to nourish the tissue but also to enhance the elimination of muscle fatigue and pain-causing substances (e.g., lactic acid) thus creating healthy tissue.
Many chronic pain conditions and chronic inflammatory conditions are associated with poor circulation in the tissues which cause tight muscles and pain (chronic ischemic pain). Muscles without enough blood supply are fatigued easily and are more prone to injury. When we administer acupuncture, except in a few very acute cases, we attempt to enhance blood circulation, especially in the area that there is pain or discomfort. Circulation of the tissue improves due to the release of vasodilators such as prostaglandin and histamine. However, prostaglandin and histamine are also pain causing substances, therefore some individuals may experience some discomfort during the recovery period. This process is extremely important for proper repair of tissue and permanent relief of pain. We always administer the treatment slowly over several visits, so that the recovery process occurs in your body gradually without any drastic reactions. Therefore, most people experience relief after the treatment, but a few others may notice an increase of pain after the session and we wanted to inform you about the possibility and likely mechanism behind it. The temporary aggravation of pain usually subsides within a few days.
How does your treatment (acupuncture) differ from anti-inflammatory pain medications (NSAIDS)?
NSAIDs may potentially have several well-known detrimental effects in your system such as gastric irritation and liver damage while acupuncture has virtually no side effects. In terms of the action on your muscle and joint pain, NSAIDs work in a different manner than acupuncture does. Most pain-relief and anti-inflammatory medications provide excellent short-term pain relief by blocking the production of pain causing substances called prostaglandins. In addition to inducing pain, however, prostaglandins are vasodilators which help enhance circulation. By inhibiting the production of prostaglandins, there will be decreased sensitivity to pain but blood supply to the muscles and joints will also be decreased, which may potentially create problems and prolong true recovery.
In my experience, regardless of pharmacological or natural approach, any treatment strategy that uses immediate relief of symptoms as a sole indicator of success or failure of the treatment will less likely result in long term success of the conditions.
Tim H. Tanaka, Ph.D. R.Ac., R.TCMP