Pain is a feeling triggered in the nervous system. It may be sharp or dull, off-and-on or steady, localized (such as back pain) or all over (such as muscles aching from the flu). Sometimes, pain alerts us to injuries and illnesses that need attention. Although pain usually goes away once the underlying problem is addressed, it can last for weeks, months, or even years. Chronic pain may be due to an ongoing condition, such as arthritis, or to abnormal activity in pain-sensing regions of the brain or the cause may not be known.
Acupuncture, among the oldest healing practices in the world, is part of traditional Eastern medicine. The basic foundation for Eastern medicine is that there is a life energy flowing through the body which is termed Qi (vital energy). This energy flows through the body on channels known as meridians that connect all of our major organs. Acupuncture is the stimulation of specific points located near or on the surface of the skin which have the ability to alter various biochemical and physiological conditions in order to achieve the desired effect.
Acupuncture is also thought to decrease pain by increasing the release of chemicals that block pain, called endorphins. Many acupuncture points are near nerves. When stimulated, these nerves cause a dull ache or feeling of fullness in the muscle. The stimulated muscle sends a message to the central nervous system (the brain and spinal cord), causing the release of endorphins, which are morphine-like chemicals produced in our own bodies during times of pain or stress. Endorphins, along with other neurotransmitters (body chemicals that modify nerve impulses), block the message of pain from being delivered to the brain.
In the 2007 National Health Interview Survey (NHIS), 3.1 million Americans said they had used acupuncture in the previous year. A special analysis of acupuncture data from an earlier NHIS found that pain or musculoskeletal complaints accounted for 7 of the top 10 conditions for which people use acupuncture. Back pain was the most common, followed by joint pain, neck pain, severe headache/migraine, and recurring pain.(NIH)