About 100 years ago the Chinese began experimenting with using electricity for therapeutic purposes. Exhaustive scientific studies ultimately led to pairing it with acupuncture to relieve a variety of painful conditions. Unfortunately, most acupuncture colleges do not include instruction on the use of electro-acupuncture as it is not considered “Traditional Chinese Medicine” I suppose. So for most part students that graduate with four year degrees in Chinese Medicine have no working knowledge of how to use it properly.
My initial experience with electro-acupuncture came about 25 years ago when I visited an acupuncturist for an acute pain in my upper back. The elderly Chinese acupuncturist who treated me connected some cables to the needles during the treatment, something I had not experienced before. To my amazement the pain in my back, which was about an 8 out of 10 on a pain scale, significantly diminished by the end of the treatment. I knew right then that this was a technique that had amazing potential in the treatment for all painful conditions. Little did I know, however, that it would take me years to learn and master the secrets to the use of this technique, and that I would write a book on pain with a chapter devoted to its use (release date yet to be determined). I will have more on this in the near future.
So for now, lets talk about the benefits of electro-acupuncture over more traditional manual acupuncture? There are basically two major benefits to adding electrical stimulation to needle therapy. Perhaps most importantly with regard to correcting the tension in the muscle or what I believe to be the primary cause of most painful conditions, is the anti-spasmodic effect the electrical stimulation provides. With the needle inserted into the belly of the muscle, the electricity causes the needle to vibrate (which is visible as you increase the amplitude). It is this vibration that has this incredibly efficacious anti-spasmodic, muscle relaxing effect. By relaxing the muscle, inflammation is reduced, blood flow is restored to the muscle, nerve pressure is relieved, and function ultimately restored. Bottom line, the root cause of pain, muscle tension, is addressed and corrected which is the only real, authentic, appropriate approach to treating the majority of painful conditions.
The second major benefit of adding electrical stimulation to the needle is that the Chinese, through years of study, discovered an “electrical wave form” (bi-phasic with a negative spike for you electrical geeks) that produced an analgesic effect when applied to acupuncture needles. In fact, they found that it could produce such a powerful analgesic effect that it could be used in lieu of anesthesia during many surgical procedures. In China, today, electro-acupuncture is routinely used for this purpose. The genius of electro-acupuncture is that it allows us to tap into the human “internal pharmacy”, and mobilize our body’s ability to produce pain relieving chemicals. Specifically, these pain mediating chemicals are called enkephalins, which are more potent than even morphine. For people that have been in chronic pain, to get a few days of pain relief from these endogenous chemicals, is a dream come true. Furthermore, there are none of the awful side effects inherent in the synthetic pain relievers prescribed today. No other natural healing system in the world can activate and mobilize these pain relieving chemicals like electro-acupuncture is capable of doing. It is truly a unique, one of a kind, unbelievably powerful tool that should be utilized in any pain relieving protocol.
I have always been amazed at the small percentage of practitioners who even utilize this technique. Acupuncturists have the greatest pain relieving tool in the history of medicine, yet so few capitalize on this science. It’s like using a spoon to drive in a nail even though we have a hammer at our disposal. The only possible explanation for this is that most practitioners have not been taught the correct methods for using this methodology, and have not experienced its power and ability to change people’s lives. One of my remaining goals as a practitioner of this amazing medicine, is to instruct others on the value, and proper use of electro-acupuncture so that we continue to gain the respect and acceptance that we deserve within the mainstream medical community.
If you have a painful condition that has not responded to any therapy, electro-acupuncture may provide the greatest opportunity for a positive outcome for you. Typically, you will experience results within four treatments unless there is a severe structural issue that needs a more invasive approach, i.e. surgery. But in 80% percent of cases, the root cause of pain has a muscular origin, and acupuncture is the most appropriate therapy to resolve soft tissue injuries.
Yours in health,
Rick J Bernard, L.Ac.
Photo by marniejoyce, used under creative commons licensing.