Advil or Acupuncture?

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Question: Dr. Dan, how effective is acupuncture in treating pain? Can’t I just pop an Advil?

Dr. Dan: The question I want to address here is what to do for relatively minor aches and pains.

Here is the short answer: Advil and other ibuprofen medications are perfectly acceptable for short-term pain relief, such as a stress headache or a muscle ache after a hard workout. But for prolonged aches and pains, such as an ongoing neck pain or knee pain, acupuncture is a much, much safer option. Let me explain.


Anti-inflammatories interfere with your body’s natural healing process

Like you, I don’t abstain from taking an Advil or ibuprofen every now and then to treat pain. Nobody likes to be in pain and popping an Advil is just too convenient. But once you understand how Advil impacts your body, acupuncture starts to look like a much safer and long-term-friendly option for pain relief.

Remember that Advil and ibuprofen medications are anti-inflammatories, also known as Nonsteroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drugs or NSAIDs. These medications block inflammation. It’s how they reduce pain: no inflammation, no pain.

Today, we know that inflammation means the body is in the process of repairing itself. When you exercise and overexert yourself, it’s normal to feel a little soreness. That soreness is the result of the body repairing the strain it’s experienced. Taking an anti-inflammatory prevents inflammation and thus interferes with this process, prolonging the healing process. To get through one day of soreness, popping an Advil is fine for most people. But if you take anti-inflammatories on a regular basis, then problems arise.

What do I mean by regular basis? At least two times per week for a prolonged period of time. That’s when it’s time to look at alternative pain relief solutions.


Acupuncture as a long-term pain relief solution

Acupuncture is the practice of inserting needles at specific areas of the body with the intention of clearing energy blocks and enabling the body to repair itself. The Chinese view of acupuncture is that the human body is composed of complex, inner moving streams of energy. That energy should always be moving, always transforming, and should never be obstructed.

When that energy becomes stationary in one part of the body, pain and disease are often the result. Acupuncture needles smooth out and enable that circulation of energy to return to normal. The result is pain and discomfort dissipate.

Examining acupuncture with a modern lens, we now know acupuncture needles placed at specific points in the body actually stimulate the body’s endorphins. Endorphins are your body’s natural painkillers. More importantly, endorphins change and redirect your body’s blood flow. By increasing blood flow to a damaged area of the body, the healing process actually accelerates.


Advil vs. acupuncture

While anti-inflammatories slow the healing process at the cost of no pain, acupuncture accelerates it at the cost of minimal discomfort. In the short term, taking an Advil is acceptable for most people. But when you use anti-inflammatory medications to treat ongoing pain, you impede your body’s healing process, prolong the problem, and create further complications.

Remember that anti-inflammatory medications have been widely reported to take a toll on the stomach, with frequent use resulting in stomach ulcers. Those have happened to me and were incredible disruptive to my life! Significant kidney problems can also arise from prolonged use of Advil and Naprosyn. Tylenol, though technically not classified as an anti-inflammatory medication, also falls into this category as it is very hard on the liver with many reports of liver damage resulting from excess Tylenol consumption.


Final thoughts

Right now, as you probably know, we don’t treat pain well in America. We have an opioid crisis. Everyday, people are placed on opioids who quite frankly should never be. The result is a public health crisis where broken families, costly addiction problems, and overdoses hardly make the news.

I believe the way to begin to solve this problem is to reexamine our dependency on external medications, Advil and Tylenol included.

 

Thank you for reading!

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Dr. Dan Williams is an internationally trained doctor of osteopathic medicine (D.O.) and a certified acupuncture practitioner. Dr. Dan is based out of Indianapolis. You can find more information by visiting drdanielwilliams.com

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