Applying the Mind to Manage Pain

April 27, 2019 Joe Brady

Insights from Neuroimaging Research

Since ancient times in Chinese medicine, the martial artists were the specialists in pain. Both in inflicting it and in making it go away. Tai chi masters and other martial artists developed effective pain control techniques that have a lot to contribute to the modern world. With over 70,000 deaths in 2017 from opioid drugs, many researchers are looking for alternatives in pain control. Recently Dr. Jian Kong an Associate Professor at the Department of Psychiatry, Massachusetts General Hospital, Harvard Medical School gave a grand rounds lecture for the Osher Institute for Integrative Medicine on applying the power of the mind on pain control. Using examples from acupuncture, Tai-chi chuan and the Eight silken forms, Dr. Kong examines brain circuits associated with acute and chronic pain, the role of expectancy in alternative and conventional medicine and how to apply the mind to enhance the therapeutic effects of treatment, and how the mind and body can interact to reduce pain.

Watch the video of Dr. Kong’s grand rounds

Review of High Quality Clinical Trials on Acupuncture

The best review done to date and published in the Journal of the American Medical Association included 29 high quality, randomized controlled trials (RCTs) of acupuncture for chronic pain. This meta-analysis looked at individual patient data on a total of 17,922 patients. and found that acupuncture was superior to both sham and no-acupuncture control for back pain, neck pain, osteoarthritis and headache (P < .001). The review found acupuncture to be effective for the treatment of chronic pain and significant differences between true and sham acupuncture indicate that acupuncture is more than just a placebo and is a reasonable referral option for patients with chronic pain.

Acupuncture for Chronic Pain Individual Patient Data Meta-analysis, Andrew J. Vickers, DPhil; Angel M. Cronin, MS; Alexandra C. Maschino, BS; George Lewith, MD; Hugh MacPherson, PhD; Nadine E. Foster, DPhil; Karen J. Sherman, PhD; Claudia M. Witt, MD; Klaus Linde, MD

Read the review

Acupuncture Analgesia in Surgery

Perhaps the most dramatic example of acupuncture’s ability to control pain is the use of acupuncture during surgery.  Acupuncture analgesia has been used for battlefield surgery in China since at least 200 A.D. Research shows that acupuncture may be effective in perioperative settings for preoperative sedation, and for postoperative pain relief, nausea and vomiting but requires a high level of expertise by the acupuncture practitioner. (Anesthesiology). Acupuncture anesthesia is even currently being used for open heart surgery in contemporary China and Japan and more generally used for pain during surgical operations, post- operative pain, neuropathic pain, pain associated with teeth extractions. Compared to general anesthesia patients have less usage of narcotic drugs (p<0.001), less postoperative pulmonary infection (p<0.05), shorter stay in intensive care unit (p<0.05), and a lower medical cost (P<0.05). A combined acupuncture-medicine anesthesia strategy reduces the postoperative morbidity and medical costs in patients undergoing open heart surgery and cardiopulmonary bypass. Evid Based Complement Alternat Med. 2008 Jun;5(2):153-8. doi: 10.1093/ecam/nem056. Zhen Ci Yan Jiu. 1992;17(2):87-9.

Watch the film we made on Acupuncture analgesia for surgery

Battlefield Acupuncture for Pain

The Chinese have been using acupuncture for battlefield surgery since Roman times. In recent years, military doctors have turned to acupuncture in battle zones. Last year, the Army surgeon general began making the alternative treatments more widely available. Col. Kevin Galloway, that’s mission accomplished. He’s in charge of carrying out recommendations from the Army’s Pain Management Task Force, which focused heavily on unconventional therapies. New academic studies from places like Duke University back up acupuncture as an alternative to medication. As some top medical officers put it, though, there’s nothing like pain to make someone open-minded.

To read the article click here

Pain is not a new thing in the world. Since prehistoric times human beings have had to deal with pain. Modern science is at a loss as their main pain medications are now causing more problems than they are fixing. Perhaps it is time we took some advice from our ancestors and looked more towards traditional medicines and the pain control techniques they developed.

See also

Meditation and Pain Control