The growing opioid epidemic proves that powerful pain medications can often do more harm than good. People struggling with this type of addiction too often report first getting hooked on the drugs while taking prescription opioids for pain relief.
That's why doctors are looking for other ways to help treat pain. For many, acupuncture does the trick.
Chronic Back Pain
Like millions of Americans, Kyle Miller struggles with back pain. "Stiffness, soreness, and discomfort in my back," she described to CBN News. "And actually for the first time ever my back totally went out."
"It can be chronic headaches, can be chronic pelvic pain, which is common in both men and women, can be low back pain, which is probably the most common," he told CBN News.
A complicating factor is that many doctors and patients are turning away from traditional treatment methods.
Surgery, NSAIDs and Pain Pills
"A lot of people don't get relief from surgery," Dr. Spar said, "It's a lot to go through to have surgery."
Furthermore, anti-inflammatory medications, called non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, or NSAIDs, such as ibuprofen and Naprosyn, can also cause problems.
"Taking those too much increases the risk of heart disease," explained Dr. Spar, "Definitely increases the risk of peptic ulcer disease, causes other problems in the digestive tract."
Of course, doctors such as Spar are more hesitant than ever to prescribe prescription pain pills.
"Especially now with the opioid epidemic, and not wanting to use opioid pain medicines, I don't want to get people addicted to pain medicine," he said, "There's a real push on what else we can do."
Try Something New
That's why doctors are searching for new treatment options such as acupuncture.
"It's very well respected for certain conditions including back pain and many chronic painful conditions," Dr. Spar said, "There are very good studies proving its benefit. Some people think it helps highlight areas in the brain that decrease the sense of pain. There are lots of different hypotheses about why it works, but it has been proven to help." In fact, the American College of Physicians now backs acupuncture for treating back pain.
Give It a Try
Los Angeles acupuncturist Grace Suh told CBN News she recommends trying this treatment before reaching for the pills or going under the knife.
"Well what I'd like to recommend for all my new patients is to try it first before you do anything else because it doesn't have any long term negative side effects," she explained, "I like to recommend at least five sessions for you to see some changes and after five you'll know if it's going to work for you or not."
Suh's patients generally undergo 30-minute sessions once or twice a week.
"It helps by increasing circulation, simply," she said, "And research shows that it increases something called nitric oxide, which has been shown to decrease inflammation, lower blood pressure, help with pain management."
Most People Say It Doesn't Hurt
And yes, it means needles but they're super thin.
Believe it or not, many acupuncture patients say the procedure actually feels good! "You barely feel anything," Miller said, "You definitely don't feel them being inserted, and then sometimes if she's going right into the back pain you can feel something, but it's not painful and you relax for a few moments you feel nothing or it puts me to sleep."
Suh says she only inserts the needles into the skin's top layer. "Very superficial, so we never go near the nerve or at the nerve," she explained.
Although most of Grace's patients want pain relief, she also treats digestive problems and hormone issues. In fact, Grace often treats people struggling with substance abuse, including sugar addiction.
"What I focus on is calming the nervous system down, relaxing the body, helping them sleep," she said, "Because if you are sleeping really well the night before, the next day your blood sugar is more managed, you're more relaxed and therefore you'll make better choices."
Believe it or not, acupuncture is even used for cosmetic purposes. Patients get anti-aging treatments that helps smooth fine lines and wrinkles."
Acupressure: Acupuncture's Cousin
Whereas acupuncture pierces the skin in strategic spots, acupressure involves applying force to those areas. Acupressure can be performed at home by the patient on themselves or others, or by a professional.
For example, massaging between the thumb and index finger is used to treat toothaches and arthritis, near the wrist for nausea, and the middle of the forehead for stress and headaches.
So whether you take matters into your own hands or go to a professional, stimulating the body's natural ability to fight pain and other problems, could help you avoid issues from other treatments.