Chronic pain does not always show on the outside. In fact, there is probably someone in your close vicinity struggling with an internal battle so profound but you just don’t know it because that person has become an expert at hiding his or her pain. Then again, perhaps you know this intimately because that person is you.
Approximately 1 in 5 Canadians are suffering from chronic pain according to Statistics Canada. Medical professionals also confirm that senior women are the most affected demographic group, and that men are less likely to report feeling pain.
The origins of chronic pain can include a variety of social and psychological circumstances in addition to physical factors such an infection and or surgical incision. Whether chronic pain is the result of an injury or the cause is unknown (many cases have no apparent cause – no prior injury and an absence of underlying tissue damage), most healthcare professionals will tell you to explore as many modalities as possible before considering surgery.
Often times, chronic pain is masked (via medication) or simply ignored in an attempt to cope and the root cause is unexplored. This lack of investigation is usually the case when people feel overwhelmed. Whether one is racing to the finish line in the fast paced society that we live in (caring for others or trying to balance life between work and home) and or there are financial / time constraints holding the person back, there are many reasons why health gets put on the back-burner. Either way, the pain is temporarily pushed aside and the person will likely continue to suffer.
In addition, the body will eventually build up a tolerance to medication and over the counter painkillers are often rendered useless. This can lead to stronger prescription narcotics, and in the worst cases, the body becomes highly addicted while the person remains in pain and at risk of an overdose. Not only can opioids (medications to relieve pain) weaken the immune system, cause ulcers and or liver damage over time, the mere fact that the pain is not relieved can lead to anxiety, depression and a myriad of other issues which separate the mind and body.
Although there is no quick fix for chronic pain, there are many different options to choose from. Since acupuncture has become more widely recognized for pain management in the West, Medical Doctors have been referring their patients to explore the modality as one such option and our Canadian healthcare system is now inclusive of acupuncture. While it’s true that the field has garnered a lot of attention with regard to the high success rate for the treatment of pain (particularly over the past 7 years in the West), when patients seek our help with a chronic condition, it’s important to understand that the healing process takes time.
One of the first things we want to know is how long the patient has been experiencing the symptom for. If the answer is more than 12 weeks, we consider this to be a chronic condition. Largely the ability to heal a chronic condition with acupuncture requires commitment on behalf of the patient. In addition, the longer the battle with chronic pain, the longer it usually takes to treat the root of the issue making the treatment plan highly unique to that individual (which could mean months or years of treatment before landing a full recovery for some people).
To truly experience the healing benefits of acupuncture for chronic conditions, we recommend three sessions within the first 7-9 days upon intake. We would also highlight that a course of acupuncture treatment takes place in three sections: beginning, middle and end. There's a momentum to the treatment process that often builds during the middle stage. With sensitivity to time and or financial constraints, what tends to work best is to space out the appointments so that you can build on the initial momentum (start with a higher frequency of treatments in the beginning and then ride out the results with fewer sessions towards the end). Exploring your medical insurance plan to see if you have acupuncture coverage is an excellent way to support the beginning and middle of treatment. Likewise, sliding scale Community Acupuncture (pay what you can afford, chair acupuncture in a group setting) may be an accessible option for maintenance and upkeep upon the end of treatment.
We also recommend scheduling twice weekly treatments to get the first bit of improvement started for the first 2-3 weeks. Once the momentum is built, you can reduce the treatments to once a week for the remainder of the middle stage. You know when you've reached the maximum therapeutic benefit when you can space the treatments out 2-3 weeks at a time and your symptoms remain at bay. If the symptoms start creeping back in between treatments you've waited too long and we should schedule your treatments closer together.
Although making this kind of commitment to yourself may seem daunting, the good news is that activating a health plan is the easiest part. You are also not alone, and your healthcare team can work closely with you to set up an ideal appointment schedule. There are support groups, individual counselling and many complementary therapies to choose from in combination with acupuncture to help maximize your results and make your journey of healing a positive and empowering experience. You will learn a lot about yourself and grow to realize how essential self-care is for the quality of your life. If you’re tired of the same old story, it’s never too late to open a new book and turn the page on your health!