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Treating Severe Pain: Needling with Distal Acupuncture


Wellness insights from Acupuncture Center of NJ, providing holistic complementary mind-body-heart-healing since 1986, in Morristown, NJ!

Treating Severe Pain: Needling with Distal Acupuncture

Peter Kadar

Our patients at the Acupuncture Center of New Jersey who are unfamiliar with acupuncture treatment often ask me why I am putting needles in a part of their body far from their actual pain. For example, when undergoing acupuncture for back pain, they’ll say “The pain is in my lower back, why are you putting needles in my hands and legs?” I tell them that although it’s their back that is in pain, I can utilize other points elsewhere in their body that are extremely effective in easing the pain and promoting healing in their back. Everything in the body is connected by a series of channels of energy and can therefore be treated using that system. (The same is true when getting acupuncture for knee pain, hip pain, shoulder pain and neck pain).

shoulder acupuncture

After all, acupuncture relieves pain and promotes healing in a few very basic ways:

  • Acupuncture reduces inflammation and increases circulation.
  • Acupuncture affects the nervous system, calming or strengthening neural communications, to help block pain or increase activity of an organ or body system.
  • Acupuncture causes a neurochemical release of our bodies’ own natural opioids, our own natural pain-killers, that can be similar to what endurance athletes experience as the so-called “runners high”.

I further explain that when we insert needles, we affect the flow of energy in the body. When that energy is freely flowing, our bodies maintain and repair themselves naturally. That’s what they are programmed to do, but when the energy is blocked or severely diminished, either by a traumatic accident or disease, pain and illness are the result. By restoring the flow of energy through the affected areas, we restore the natural healing properties inherent in our bodies.

Pain, often caused by physical trauma, such as a car accident, sports injury or over-exertion, is almost always in a specific area of the body. There may be residual or secondary pains in other regions of the body, but generally there is one primary area which is the most debilitating. Lower back pain, knee, hip, shoulder, or neck pain, can all severely impact our quality of life. Once we reduce or alleviate the primary pain, the other issues tend to clear up more quickly and we can return to our normal lifestyle and daily routines.  

Distal treatment accomplishes this most effectively by guiding the energy for healing to the areas of pain. We utilize specific acupuncture points located at a distance—or distal—in the body from the affected area. We choose distal points that enhance the energy flowing through the injured area, reducing inflammation and increasing the circulation to that area, and supporting the lymph system our bodies depend upon for detoxing and promoting faster healing. This type of treatment is based on very ancient and traditional acupuncture theories of meridians taught and practiced by Master Tung, whose family lineage of acupuncture dates back over 2,000 years to the Han Dynasty and more recently utilized by Dr. Tan, whom I have studied with extensively.

shoulder acupuncture needles

That’s not to say that I never use local points for treatment which are points that are in the area of pain. For the vast majority of cases, by needling farther away from the pain I can energetically promote healing and elimination of the pain more quickly than attacking it locally. Certainly there are exceptions, and when I don’t get the desired response quickly enough I do explore local treatments as well.

A final benefit of distal needling is that the affected area can be moved. Movement is beneficial to circulation and energy flow and often helps in immediate relief or reduction in pain symptoms. With needles on other areas of the body, you can move your knee, hip, neck, shoulders, and back while the treatment is happening which enhances the effect on energy and circulation.

For example, I often find a tender point through palpation on the left hand or ankle that is directly linked to lower back pain and sciatica down the right leg. Needling those points can immediately cause a change in the pain, and with movement of the back and affected leg, such as bending or walking, pain is relieved and healing hastened.

Here at the Acupuncture Center of New Jersey, our patients are living proof that acupuncture for lower back pain, knee, hip, shoulder, or neck pain is incredibly effective. Distal needling is a useful and common method of acupuncture treatment. It is an exemplary example of just how the movement of the body, and the energy flowing through it, can beneficially improve our pain and healing.

Post by Jonathan Holasek

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