There are millions of people that struggle with pain—but many of them don’t know what types of treatments are available to help them get that pain under control. Chiropractic care, acupressure, and acupuncture are three such services. So how, exactly, can these services help people better deal with pain—and, if they have the potential to treat your pain, how can you find the right provider?
How chiropractic care can help with pain management
Let’s start with chiropractic care. Chiropractic care is different from other pain management services in that it doesn’t just aim to manage pain; it aims to identify that root cause that’s driving that pain and address it so pain is no longer a symptom.
“For many different types of pain, such as nerve or muscle pain, conventional doctors often treat symptoms using medications such as painkillers or muscle relaxers,” says Dr. Eric von der Leith, DC, chiropractor at SportsMed Physical Therapy in Franklin Lakes, NJ. “Chiropractic tries to address the root cause of musculoskeletal pain by correcting the motion of the joint, thus stopping inflammation at the source and allowing the body to begin to heal on its own.”
Chiropractic services can also help increase mobility of the joints, leading to further pain relief. “When it comes to chronic pain, chiropractic works to increase the mobility of joints restricted by tissue injury, such as muscles and ligaments,” says Scottsdale-based chiropractor Dr. Steve Hruby, DC. “Increased mobility allows the central nervous system to process pain signals faster and more effectively, eliminating pain.”
Chiropractic services are also great because they can treat a number of different types of pain. “Chiropractic is very effective at training pain related to injuries, musculoskeletal or nervous system imbalances, and chronic overuse or misuse, such as occurs with poor form or posture,” says von der Leith. “Typically patients may see a chiropractor back, neck, and spine pain, but it can also help issues across the entire body, and even concerns that may not initially seem related, such as headaches.”
How acupuncture and/or acupressure can help with pain management
Acupressure and acupuncture are two additional modalities that may help with pain. But before we jump into how they can treat pain, let’s quickly cover the difference between the two.
“Acupressure is the manual stimulation of acu-points on the body using the hands or pressure tools, similar to massage therapy,” says Dr. Anna Cho, licensed acupuncturist and Doctor of Acupuncture and Chinese Medicine at SportsMed. “Acupuncture is the stimulation of acu-points using fine filiform needles that produce stronger effects.”
But whether you go with acupressure or acupuncture, the stimulation of the pressure points is what leads to pain relief. “The mechanical stimulation of these points propagates a series of chemical reactions throughout the body via nervous system pathways,” says Cho. “Consequently, this induces the regulation of biochemicals, such as hormones and neurotransmitters, that correspond to the body’s diverse systems—[for example], cardiac, respiratory, digestive, urinary, reproductive, or endocrine systems—to bring the respective systems into balance.”
Acupuncture has some additional pain-relieving benefits. “Acupuncture induces the production of enkephalins, which help reduce pain perception and also create a sense of euphoria,” says Cho. “Furthermore…acupuncture increases blood flow and promotes vasodilation, which are imperative to healing and mitigating pain as they subside inflammation and promote delivery of nutrients and biochemicals that nourish the site of pain or injury.”
In terms of what types of pain these modalities are best suited for, acupuncture and acupressure “is most effective at treating musculoskeletal issues, such as back pain, neck, shoulder pain, [or] knee pain,” says Cho. Acupuncture is also helpful in treatment “post-operative pain, headaches, migraines, nausea, women’s period cramps and tooth/cheek pain after surgery,” says Cho.
How to find a practitioner
Before you seek out a chiropractor, acupuncturist, or acupressure practitioner, it’s important to understand what kinds of pain these services are not meant to treat.
“Chiropractic treatment is not ideal for treating acute injuries, including a broken bone or head injury,” says Hruby. “Chiropractic is [also] not recommended for patients with osteoporosis.”
If you’re considering acupuncture—and you’re currently pregnant—it’s important to let your acupuncturist know before you start treatment. “In cases of pregnancy, it is important to inform your practitioner, as some points may be contraindicated,” says Cho.
If you decide you want to explore chiropractic, acupuncture, or acupressure services for pain management, you’ll want to do your research—and ideally, schedule a consultation before you decide whether a particular practitioner is right for you.
“Be sure to ask about scheduling an initial meeting before committing to treatment,” says Hruby. “This allows patients to meet the doctor [or practitioner], tour the office, and understand more about treatment before signing on for services.”
During that meeting, let your chiropractor or acupuncturist know exactly why you’re seeking treatment—and pay attention to how they respond. “As a patient, be sure to be very clear and honest about why you are seeking…treatment, your goals, and expectations to make sure it is a good fit,” says von der Leith. “It’s important to find a chiropractor [or acupuncturist] who listens to your concerns, and outlines and explains a logical plan for treatment.”
This information is for educational purposes only and is not intended as a substitute for medical diagnosis or treatment. You should not use this information to diagnose or treat a health problem or condition. Always check with your doctor before changing your diet, altering your sleep habits, taking supplements, or starting a new fitness routine.