Treating Pain with Chinese Medicine (CM)

Updated: Apr 15

Pain is a warning signal from your body. Your body is trying to let you know something is wrong and needs attention.

You wouldn’t ignore a tsunami siren or fire alarm by pretending nothing was wrong, putting in earplugs and ignore the warning, would you? Taking pain medication is just like putting in earplugs. Pain is an important alarm; it is a siren from your body trying to get your attention.

What Can You Do?

No one should have to live in pain. Too often, people experiencing pain take medications to make the pain decrease and to feel better. However, until the cause of the pain is treated and corrected, your body will continue to send you painful alerts to tell you that something is wrong. Certain medications can also cause harmful side effects and may lead to dependency while the actual cause of the pain is never treated, the condition can even become worse, and medications may become ineffective.

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Chinese Medicine (CM) is well known for its effectiveness in treating pain conditions, it works to correct the cause of pain while also providing pain relief. CM is founded on empirical evidence, which means it is based on over 3,000 years of documented clinical trials/evidence. CM is a whole-body approach to treating a specific condition, it stimulates the body's natural self-healing abilities and brings about homeostasis (balance).

Pain management treatments are not limited to muscle-skeletal conditions, internal medicine conditions, skin conditions and nerve related pain can also be treated with Chinese Medicine.

Chinese Medicine treatment options for pain include:

· Acupuncture

· Chinese Herbal Medicine

· Cupping

· Tui Na (Acupressure/Medical Massage)

· Gua Sha (Scraping)

· Moxibustion (Moxa)

· Exercise Therapy + Lifestyle Modification/Coaching

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What is Acupuncture?

Acupuncture is the most well-known type of Chinese Medicine treatment. Acupuncture is a safe, natural, effective, time-tested, FDA approved, and drug-free method to treat pain and other various health conditions. Unlike other ways of managing pain, Chinese Medicine has no harmful side effects.

How Does Acupuncture Work?

Acupuncture activates the body's innate healing abilities. It can help the body restore itself by nourishing cells, tissues, muscles and organs. The main 14 acupuncture channels lie within the skin and are also said to have a direct link to the internal organs. If we look at this through the perspective of Western medicine, it is the blood vessels, veins, arteries, nervous system and connective tissue, and through this network, each cell in a particular area is responsible for communicating the regulation process.

Acupuncture needles are generally painless

Acupuncture needles are about 10 times thinner than the average hypodermic needle. Most people receiving acupuncture experience little or no pain. Many people experience a deep sense of relief and relaxation and find acupuncture helps with many symptoms.

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Studies have shown that stimulation of acupuncture points causes the release of many nervous system chemicals in our brain, spinal cord, and muscles, that help restore the body's ability to heal itself. The pain-relief, healing, and regenerative properties of acupuncture are amazing.

There are various explanations and theories about how acupuncture works, although we are just beginning to understand this ancient science, some of the most common modern scientific theories on the mechanisms of acupuncture are:

Neurotransmitter Theory

Acupuncture communicates with the nervous system regulating the function of the body, affecting higher brain areas, stimulating the secretion of endorphins in the brain and spinal cord. The release of neurotransmitters also influences the immune and pain signaling systems. (A)(B)(C)

Blood Chemistry Theory

Acupuncture positively affects the blood concentrations of triglycerides, cholesterol, and phospholipids, suggesting acupuncture can both raise and diminish peripheral blood components, thereby regulating the body toward homeostasis. (C)

Autonomic Nervous System Theory

Acupuncture stimulates the release of norepinephrine, acetylcholine and several types of opioids, affecting changes in their turnover rate, normalizing the autonomic nervous system, and reducing pain. (D)(E)

Vascular-Interstitial (Circulatory) Theory

Acupuncture affects the electrical system of the body by creating or enhancing closed-circuit transport in tissues. This facilitates healing by allowing the transfer of material and electrical energy between normal and injured tissues. (F)

Gate Control Theory

Acupuncture re-sets pain signals in the nervous system by activating non-nociceptive receptors that inhibit the transmission of pain signals in the dorsal horn, "gating" our painful stimuli. (F)

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What is Chinese Herbal Medicine?

Chinese Herbal Medicine is the most advanced, sophisticated, and well researched form of medicine that exists today. Chinese Herbal Medicine is based on over 3,000 years of documented clinical trials, most commonly using natural formulas made up from various twigs, roots, leaves, and in rare cases, insects and animal derivatives.

Herbal formulas are available for both internal and external application. Delivery methods can be in the form of raw herbs, granules, tablets, capsules or “tea” pills. Chinese Herbal Medicine is quality controlled and meets USDA/ FDA factory regulations and additional standards and testing.

Chinese Herbal Medicine focuses on correcting dysfunction of certain organs and unhealthy body patterns. The goal of Chinese Herbal Medicine is to bring the body back into a state of homeostasis (balance) and restore the body’s own healing properties.

Here is what you can expect during a Traditional Chinese Herbal Medicine session: customized herbs specific to your case and are prescribed following an exam with the Chinese Herbal Medicine Practitioner. Sometimes herbs are used as a complement to another treatment, such as acupuncture or other Traditional Chinese Medicine therapy.

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What is Cupping and how does it work?

Cupping is a Traditional Chinese Medicine technique/therapy involving the placement of glass or plastic cups on the skin with a vacuum it can be done by itself or combined with acupuncture. The treatment is NOT hot or painful in any way, and patients typically report feeling lighter, looser, and more balanced after a session.

The deposits that surface on the skin dissipate from a few hours up to several weeks, depending on the amount of stagnation and the patients post treatment activities. The color and pattern of the marks depend on the level of stagnation in the area, and range from a bright red to dark purple, usually lasting 3 days to 1 week - sometimes longer if the person is very sick or sedentary. If there is no stagnation present, there will be only a pink marking which disappears in a few minutes to a couple of hours. Sites where there is old trauma or injury may require multiple cupping treatments to remove all stagnation. You will find in follow up treatments the marks will be progressively lighter as the stagnation is systematically removed from the body.

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Benefits of Cupping

Cupping can be used for many conditions but is commonly used for sore muscles, muscle tension, pain, and to help resolve the common cold. Cupping therapy is used to relieve what is called “stagnation” in Traditional Chinese Medicine terms. Cupping is also used to treat back, neck, shoulder, knee, and other musculoskeletal pain. The technique stimulates circulation, removes toxins from the body, reduces inflammation, swelling, and pain.

Learn about the 6 Scientifically Proven Benefits of Cupping Therapy by clicking the link.

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What is Tui Na – Acupressure

Acupressure is a Medical Massage treatment of the acupuncture points and channels with pressure or massage techniques. Acupressure techniques are used to stimulate acupoint or channels, increase range of motion, stimulates circulation, decrease inflammation, decreases pain, and treats various conditions. Tui Na incorporates some sport massage techniques, and can be used for the treatment of sports injuries or post-operation recovery.

Tui Na (Chinese Medical Massage) and Shiatsu (Japanese Medical Massage) can have similar effects to acupuncture (but without using needles) when acupressure is applied to the points and channels by a skilled* therapist (someone with in-depth knowledge and training on the use of acupuncture channels and points). These skillful practitioners can identify disharmony in the body and devise a treatment to help restore balance to the areas of concern.

Tui Na, if skillfully applied, can treat internal medicine conditions similar to acupuncture, and is within the scope of practice of a licensed acupuncturist. ​Tui Na techniques are customized and designed to treat specific conditions.

Learn about the differences between Acupressure and Acupuncture by clicking the link.

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What is Gua Sha?

Gua Sha (“Skin-scraping”) is a technique that intentionally raises skin rashes. ‘Gua’ means to scrape or rub. The area to be rubbed is lubricated with oil. In Gua Sha stimulation, the skin is pressured with strokes by a round-edged instrument this results in the appearance of small red petechiae called ‘Sha’, which fade within 2 to 3 days and can be tender while healing. The skin is then rubbed with a round-edged instrument in strokes. One area is stroked until the rashes that surfaces is completely raised.

How does Gua Sha work?

Gua Sha promotes (normalizes) metabolic processes and circulation to the muscles, tissues, and organs directly corresponding to the area treated, and facilitates metabolic waste to be carried away. Small injuries to the body, such as the Sha caused by Gua Sha, can be described as microtrauma. This microtrauma creates a response in the body that may help to break up scar tissue and remove cellular debris stuck in the tissue. Microtrauma may also help with fibrosis, which is a buildup of too much connective tissue.

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What is Moxibustion or Moxa?

Moxibustion is composed of an herb called Mugwort (Ai Ye) which is burned on or near the body. It functions to promote blood circulation and warm acupuncture points to accelerate the healing process. Moxibustion treatments can be done directly as part of the acupuncture process or indirectly, through the burning of a moxa stick which is held near the application point or area, local applications can help improve recovery of injured joints, tendons, ligaments, and muscles.

Moxa is commonly used to treat pain and other conditions. Moxa can help with accelerating the metabolic processes in the body. This means that it can help the healing of damaged tissue, by increasing circulation to the damaged tissues and decreasing inflammation. Many pain conditions and injuries can be treated with moxa, arthritis, tendinitis, inflammation, sprains, swelling, etc. Typically, in pain conditions, it is used directly in the area of concern, and possibly along the acupuncture channels that are involved.

Moxibustion can dredge acupuncture meridians regulating Qi and Blood (CM terms for the cause of pain), it has been used to prevent and cure diseases for more than 2,500 years. Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) usually refers to “needling” and “moxibustion” collectively, for both of them are based on the same theories of meridian and acupoint therapy. (Acupoints are the sites on the body surface, in which the qi of organs and meridians assembles, they act as target and response points of treatment).

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Pain management treatments are not limited to muscle-skeletal conditions, internal medicine conditions, skin conditions and nerve related pain can also be treated with Chinese Medicine.

Chinese Medicine has been clinically proven to treat over 100 health conditions to see a list of common conditions treated click here.

Types of Pain

· Post Operative

· Sports Injury

· Disk Conditions (Herniation, Bulges, Pinched Nerve, Spondylosis, Degenerative, Bone Spur, Thinning)

· Migraines (Headaches)

· Arthritis / Joint Pain

· Tendonitis

· Fibromyalgia

· Carpal Tunnel Syndrome (CTS)

· Bursitis

· Radiculopathy (Nerve Pain / Symptoms)

Locations of Pain


· Headaches


· Facial Pain

· Tooth Ache / Mouth Sores

· Sore Throat

Neck / Back

· Sciatica

· Joint Impingement

· Ligament Sprain

· Nerve Pain

· Sacroiliac Joint Pain

· Spondylosis

· Degenerative Joint / Disc Disease / Herniation

· Muscle Strain / Tension


· Impingement Syndrome

· Frozen Shoulder

· Bicipital Tendinitis

· Bursitis

· Tendon Inflammation

· Myotendinous Strain


· Lateral Epicondylitis / Tennis Elbow

· Medial Epicondylitis / Golfer’s Elbow

· Triceps - Bicep Muscle / Tendon Strain

· CTS – Carpal Tunnel Syndrome

· Trigger Finger


· Sciatica

· Bursitis

· Piriformis Syndrome

· Strains

· IT Band



· Iliotibial Band (IT band) Friction / Runner’s Knee

· Tendinitis

· Meniscus Injury

· Ligament (Lateral Collateral / Medial Collateral)

· Bursitis

· Baker’s Cyst


· Planter Fasciitis

· Metatarsal Stress Fractures

· Neuropathy

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(A) Neuro-acupuncture, “Scientific evidence of acupuncture revealed” , Cho, ZH., et al., 2001

(B) Acupuncture – A scientific appraisal, Ernst, E., White, A., 1999, p. 74.

(C) Acupuncture Energetics, “A Clinical Approach for Physicians” Helms, Dr. J.,1997, pgs 41-42, 66.

(D) Anatomy of Neuro-Anatomical Acupuncture, Volume 1, Wong, Dr. J., 1999, pg. 34

(E) National Institute of Health Consensus Conference on Acupuncture, “Acupuncture Activates Endogenous Systems of

Analgesia.”, Han, J.S., 1997 (Bethesda, MD).

(F) Neuro-acupuncture, “Scientific Evidence of Acupuncture Revealed”, Cho, ZH., et al., p. 116.

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