Acupuncture and Nerve Pain

There are different types of pain, in the sense that they involve different mechanisms in the body.. Pain can originate from the muscles and joints (arthritis, tendonitis, bursitis), from the internal organs (heart kidneys, gall bladder…) , or from the nerves themselves. Therefore, pain-treatments strategies can target specific types of pain.

Nerve pain can be caused by a traumatic injury to the nerve, a compression of the nerve by another anatomical structure, such as a spinal disc. It can be the result of an infection, such as herpes zoster (shingles), or Lyme disease.  Sometimes nerve pain is a result of another medical condition such as diabetes, Multiple Sclerosis (MS) or a stroke (CVA).  Lastly, exposure to certain chemicals, such as chemotherapy or radiation for cancer treatment can cause nerve pain, known as peripheral neuropathy.

Different medicines are more appropriate for certain types of pain. For nerve pain (neuralgia, peripheral neuropathy, central pain…), the most commonly used class of medications includes drugs that control seizures (anti-convulsive). Because they decrease the electrical activity in the nervous system, they can decrease the pain signals that go to the area of the brain that register pain. Because they do not treat the nerves themselves, these medications have to be administered as long as the patient keeps feeling the nerve pain.

There are different disease mechanisms that have been considered as causing nerve pain. In one scenario, the protective nerve sheath becomes inflamed and damaged (de-myelination). Another explanation offered, is that the blood flow inside the nerves becomes impaired, which would explain why peripheral neuropathy is worse at night, when the body does not move. In the current literature, another possible culprit is listed: a disruption in the metabolism within the nerve fiber itself (ATP production). Whatever the disease mechanism(s) is (are) involved, most authors acknowledge the fact that much more needs to be known about peripheral neuropathy.

An internet search on reputable sites such as Medline will give you a list of research studies showing preliminary positive results of acupuncture treatment of peripheral neuropathy. In my own clinical experience, I have treated many patients with various types of neuropathy and neuralgia. The vast majority of them responded well and for many the pain totally stopped. Over nearly 30 years of clinical experience I have seen patients with AIDS, with diabetes, or cancer, patients who had shingles, trigeminal neuralgia, occipital neuralgia, or neuropathy of unknown origin (idiopathic neuropathy) and the great majority responded well to treatment.  My conclusion is that acupuncture can offer a true cure to many patients suffering from nerve pain.