Chronic pain is pain that has been present for a while, usually for more than 3 months. Research over the past few years shows that after a few months the nature of pain may change, and can be more difficult to treat because changes may start to occur in the brain, and this frequently needs different treatment approaches.
Nonetheless, conditions such as arthritis, low back pain, sciatica, "trapped nerve", slipped disc, frozen shoulder and sacro-iliac joint problems may respond well to manipulation, acupuncture or a combination of both, as do many acute and chronic sports injuries. It is well worth trying acupuncture for the pain of shingles, and pain after a stroke.
In this practice most of our patients have had their pain for months or years and sometimes decades, when they are first seen. Relief may still follow quite quickly, in some cases only 3-4 treatments, but other patients will need more treatment in order to achieve substantial relief or long term remission.
What about pain associated with Cancer?
Acupuncture can treat pain associated with cancer (although it will not treat the underlying disease) and is now widely used at the Royal Marsden Hospital, London, the country’s leading cancer hospital. Some of the other distressing symptoms and side effects associated with cancer and with chemotherapy or radiotherapy, such as nausea and sickness, gut and bladder disturbances (diarrhoea, pain, bloating, irritative bladder) can be helped by acupuncture.
Dry mouth syndrome or xerostomia
Acupuncture has also been used for relieving some of the symptoms of 'dry mouth syndrome'
A recent study, published earlier in the year in Annals of Oncology, and presented at the Scientific Meeting of the British Medical Acupuncture Society, was carried out in seven cancer centres in Sussex and showed that patients who had received acupuncture were twice as likely to report improved dry mouth than patients receiving standard oral care. The study was called the ARIX trial (the letters stand for "acupuncture in the treatment of radiation induced xerostomia").
Patients treated with radiotherapy (Xrays) for head and neck cancer often suffer from the distressing effect of dry mouth because the radiation causes damage to the glands which make saliva. It may not sound that awful but it can severely affect patients' quality of life, interfering with taste, chewing, speaking and disturbing sleep (patients may have to wake frequently to take sips of water).
A survey of patients with long standing pain which had not been helped by other therapies demonstrated how helpful acupuncture could be. This study showed that many patients had good symptom relief with acupuncture, for example;
One particularly distressing symptom of cancer is the 'dry mouth' or Xerostomia which frequently follows Radiotherapy to the head and neck. 7 out of 10 patients had improvement following acupuncture.
Cancer (2002) Feb; (94); No. 4; 1151-1156
ARIX: a randomised trial of acupuncture v oral care sessions in patients with chronic xerostomia following treatment of head and neck cancer.
Annals of Oncology 2012 doi:10.1093/ annonc/mds515