Acupuncture and My Search for Chronic Pain Treatments

by @RobertaHeale, Associate Editor, EBN

What I like about being a nurse practitioner is the ability to provide wholistic care to patients including assessment, diagnosis and treatment.  It brings me great professional satisfaction to not only monitor my patient’s response to treatment of chronic conditions, but also to educate them about their condition and implement preventative care measures.  However, one area of care falls short; the management of chronic pain.

Chronic pain issues, at various degrees, represent a large percentage of the reason for patient appointments.  Chronic pain is often combined with other issues:  osteopororis and chronic pain; cardiac disease and chronic pain; diabetes and chronic pain…the list goes on.  I’ve been frustrated and concerned that the predominant treatment of chronic pain in my repertoire of options is medication.  Pharmaceuticals may take the pain away, but only for a short time and they are fraught with problems:  side effects (some deadly), addiction, cost and more.  Besides, pills don’t treat the problem, only the symptom.  In addition, in Canada, physiotherapy, massage, chiropractic etc, are not included in health coverage.  Most of the patients I see do not have additional health benefits to cover these treatment options and can’t afford to pay for it themselves.

I happened to work with a nurse practitioner who practices acupuncture.  What a revelation! I didn’t know much about acupuncture, but over time, her successes in treating patients with chronic pain took me down a path of discovery.

Classical acupuncture has been documented in China for thousands of years. The earliest work about acupuncture, the Nei Jing, was compiled around 305-204 BC and contained everything that was known about acupuncture to that point.   Since that time, acupuncture has remained an important part of Chinese medicine.  See this site for more information about the history of acupuncture:

Western medicine has been slow to embrace acupuncture.  However, there has been increasing interest and implementation of acupuncture since the 1970’s.  More and more scientific evidence has accumulated that supports the effectiveness of acupuncture in the treatment of chronic pain, as well as a number of other conditions1. Check this out

Nurses in Ontario, my home province, along with all other regulated healthcare providers, are eligible to include acupuncture in their practice.  It goes without saying that this is after receiving training from an accredited education program.  So, that’s what I’m doing.  I started an entry level acupuncture course.  I’ll complete the online portion and then participate in an intensive onsite seminar over a number of days where I’ll poke other students with extremely fine needles and, hopefully, get them in the right place.  At this point, I’ll be allowed to implement basic acupuncture with my patients.  A few of my patients are aware that I’m taking this program…they’re just as frustrated as I am with the scant options for chronic pain and are waiting for me to finish my program.  Actually, all but one person I know, has volunteered to let me practice on them.

So, this is a blog without an ending…yet.   I’ll write a follow up in the Spring and let you know about my experiences in implementing acupuncture into my practice.   Stay tuned!

1. Wang, S., Kain, Z. N. & White, P. (2008). Acupuncture analgesia:  1.  The Scientific basis.  International Anesthesia Research Society, 106(2), 602-610.

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