Acupuncture and Massage for Chronic Pain
By Kathleen Rushall
According to the American Pain Association, an estimated 86 million Americans suffer from chronic pain. Chronic pain can be characterized by persistent pain signals that are repeatedly fired from the nervous system, and they can last from weeks to years. While it is common that chronic pain is the result of a previous accident or condition, it can also occur with no apparent incident, and is a frequent problem for older adults. As with most prevalent and life-affecting afflictions, there is a wide variety of solutions available; from over-the-counter medication to prescription drugs, chronic pain is dealt with daily in a variety of ways. However, traditional Chinese medicine may have two more effective means of relief to offer.
Both Chinese acupuncture and massage therapy are regularly used to alleviate chronic pain. There is some contention in the field of Oriental medicine as to which practice is more beneficial. According to the British Medical Journal, a recent study showed acupuncture to provide greater short-term pain relief and better range of motion than traditional massage. The study consisted of 177 patients with chronic neck pain, all of whom were randomly assigned to treatments of acupuncture, massage, or placebo practices.
In their results, the researchers stated that, “individuals treated with acupuncture reported greater reductions in pain both immediately after the first and last treatments, and one week after the last treatment, than those treated with massage.” In this study, acupuncture was deemed especially more effective in regard to pain caused by motion. The conclusion of the British Medical Journal was a statement that, “…acupuncture is a safe form of treatment for people with chronic neck pain and offers clear clinical advantages over conventional massage in the reduction of pain and improvement of mobility. Acupuncture was most effective in people who had had pain for over five years and in those with the myofascial pain syndrome.” Pain relief was also varied between the patients that were skeptical, versus those that were positive about the study’s possible results.
While acupuncture is believed by many to provide long-term relief for chronic pain, massage therapy also has a good deal of staunch believers. The Archives of Internal Medicine conducted a randomized trial comparing traditional Chinese medical acupuncture, therapeutic massage, and self-care education for chronic low back pain. This study included 262 patients between the ages of 20 and 70 with persistent back pain, and consisted of 10 weeks of the various treatments. The results state that, “Therapeutic massage was effective for persistent low back pain, apparently providing long-lasting benefits,” and that traditional Chinese acupuncture was “relatively ineffective.” The Touch Research Institute has conducted over 90 clinical studies on the beneficial effects of massage therapy. These studies have proven massage therapy’s effectiveness in the relief of not only chronic pain, but also juvenile rheumatoid arthritis, labor pain, fibromyalgia, and back pain.
Thankfully, the millions of sufferers of chronic pain do not have to choose between acupuncture or massage therapy for their relief. Both practices have obvious benefits and continuous business with returning clients, which is perhaps the most convincing proof of their success. While common, chronic pain should not be one of the most accepted ailments in the world, particularly when there are so many treatment options. By utilizing the resources available in traditional Chinese medicine, whether acupuncture or massage therapy, people can greatly improve their daily lives and well-being.
Devitt, Michael. Study: Acupuncture Better than Massage for Chronic Neck Pain. http://www.acupuncturetoday.com/archives2001/sep/09neckpain.html.
British Medical Journal: BMJ 2001; 322:1574. http://www.bmj.com/cgi//content/full/322/7302/1574.
Archives of Internal Medicine: Vol. 161 No. 8, April 23, 2001. http://archinte.ama-assn.org/cgi/content/abstract/161/8/1081.