Treating Pain with Acupuncture

Neuralgias and nerve pain: Success with acupuncture

Over the years, I have treated many issues that have been directly or indirectly related to disturbances in nerve healing. Examples include trigeminal neuralgia, post herpetic neuralgia, glossopharyngeal neuralgia, pelvic nerve pain, and neuropathy secondary to muscle and soft tissue injury of joints and tissues. I have been truly astounded by how effective acupuncture treatment is for neurogenic and neuropathic pain, as well as the rapidity of recovery.

Symptoms of Neuralgia

First of all, neuralgia means pain coming from a nerve, and it is typically more severe than musculoskeletal pain. It also has some distinct symptoms:

  • Increased sensitivity: The skin along the path of the damaged nerve will be very sensitive, and any touch or pressure, even gentle, is painful.
  • Sharp or stabbing pain: Pain will occur along the path or the damaged nerve and will be felt in the same location each time. It often comes and goes but can also be constant and burning and may feel more intense when you move that area of your body.
  • Weakness: Muscles supplied by the damaged nerve may feel very weak or become completely paralyzed.

Diagnosis is Key

Interestingly, western medicine has been slow to discover the standard of care for neuralgias. For many years, it was assumed that patients were “hysterical” because the symptoms reported often changed and did not follow a clear and logical line of reasoning. Today more research has shown that the odd nature of healing from nerve pain is because of the different fiber types. There is variability in how the fibers grow back and heal. Persistent neuropathy remains misunderstood by many clinicians.

In Chinese medicine, the body is understood using a functional method. This allows for more leeway in creating a path to healing because the method for diagnosing will be based on individual health type, signs and symptoms that show circulatory issues (“Qi or Blood stagnation”), level of penetration to deeper structures (“internal or external”), and specific meridian involvement (ex. Spleen, Liver, Kidney). This is a different way of seeing the body and while it may seem abstract to the patient, it is very concise and clear to the practitioner.

As an example let me share a recent case. A 56-year-old female with trigeminal neuralgia reported severe and searing pain that was focalized to the cheek and lower jaw. The episodes lasted about 30 seconds and made it very difficult for her to talk, eat, and brush her hair. She had tried Gabapentin, and other medications to reduce nerve pain, which did not provide any benefit. The pulse was full and slippery, a quality that shows Damp and Heat. The tongue also was very puffy with a thick, yellow coat, also confirming Damp. Using acupuncture points to Clear Damp Heat, Ease Pain, and Drain Stomach Heat proved to ease the pain. After only one treatment, she felt much relief. This inspired her to continue treatment and follow a prescribed treatment plan. After 3 treatments the pain had reduced down to 20% of the original pain level, meaning she had only minimal pain and what she described as “occasional very short bursts that were nothing like the original pain.”  This patient received a total of 6 treatments, once a week except for the last visit which was scheduled 3 weeks after she felt pretty much cured.  I wanted to check on her and also provide a final visit to boost her immune system, since trigeminal neuralgia is often associated with increased stress.