Beyond Pain: Treating the Problem not the Symptom

When a new patient steps through my front door, more often than not, it is for a pain related condition. Headaches, neck pain, low back pain, sciatica, carpal tunnel, knee pain, wrist pain, arthritis, etc. The pain often chronic, the patients have often tried other modalities, I am often a last resort. Sometimes the pain has been the forefront of the patient’s mind, and it is difficult for them to consider what happens after the pain. I often tell new patients, “My focus is not to fix your pain, my focus is to fix the problem”. That may sound like splitting hairs, but the difference is quite significant.

Consider someone with a broken arm, a cast is uncomfortable and often gets in the way, however it is necessary to support the bone while it heals. We all know there are medications that help take the pain away, but the bone will never set or keep in a position to heal without the cast. While it is important to provide pain relief, it is essential for an acupuncturist to address the root problem. I must address the pain, but it is vital that I am able to see beyond the branch symptom of pain to address the root problem and get my patients better.

In my experience, pain is a symptom, and it is subjective. Pain is a personal experience that will differ from one person to another. Every person’s perception of pain and pain tolerance is different, and this can change with activity, environment, and mental state. Some people with an ankle sprain may end up in a soft cast on crutches for weeks, while another person will lace up their bootstraps and limp back to work. This doesn’t make one wrong and one right; it doesn’t make one person strong, and one week. A person’s perception can quickly change by a multitude of factors, including medications, recreational drugs, genetics, cultural influences, stress levels, the weather, and so on.

While pain is typically what drives people through my door, it is important that an acupuncturist not only address the symptom of pain, but also the cause of pain so it cannot reoccur. In fact, the Chinese model of health and living physiology, the perspective of how the body works, is unique and the strength of Chinese medicine. It is the reason acupuncture and Chinese medicine succeeds where other therapies do not.

I will often discuss with new patient early on in their treatment that initially I have to get rid of pain and inflammation before we can fix the real problem. Acupuncture is more than an aspirin for pain; we help fix the problem.