CRPS, also known as RSD, is a disease that causes chronic pain. At this time, there is no known cure for CRPS or RSD. Common treatments for CRPS include a combination of physical and drug therapy. However, RSD cases are highly individualized and in many cases conventional therapies and medications show little or no results. If the therapies that have been tested are not alleviating any of the symptoms of CRPS, physicians and patients may turn to alternative forms of treatment, such as acupuncture.
What is Acupuncture?
Acupuncture is a form of therapy that was developed by the Chinese thousands of years ago, and has been in use in China and many other countries since. During a session of acupuncture, the patient will lie very still on a massage or examination table. In the most common form of acupuncture, the apuncturist will place very thin needles through the skin at certain points on the body, called acupoints. The patient typically will not feel any pain from the placing or removal of these needles.
Sometimes the acupuncturist will use other methods to relieve pain or treat a particular problem area on the body. One such method is called cupping. When using this method, the apuncturist will place a glass cup on the skin, usually on the patient’s back. The cup will either be filled with hot smoke, or be attached to a suction gun that pulls the air out of the cup. These methods are thought to promote detoxification and sooth the area.
Other variations of acupuncture include:
• Laser acupuncture, which uses tiny lasers instead of needles
• Acupressure, which applies massage therapy to acupoints
• Microwave acupuncture, a microwave device is attached to a needle to deliver radiation
• Moxibustion, which uses herbs either burned above or placed on skin to increase blood flow
• Electro-acupuncture, which uses the acupuncture needles to transmit weak electrical currents to
• Acupuncture point injection is when vitamins or medications are injected into an acupoint
How Does Acupuncture Work for CRPS?
Acupuncture is thought to work by promoting relaxation and allowing chemicals and blood within the body to flow properly. CRPS patients that have been treating using acupuncture have often reported relief of pain that is immediate, but temporary, lasting only one or two hours. This can feel like lack of progress, but the goal of the acupuncture is not only this temporary relief. After a few sessions, many patients reported increased mobility of limbs affected by CRPS or RSD.
What Are the Drawbacks of Acupuncture?
Using acupuncture as a treatment for CRPS works differently on each patient, and may not display favorable results in all cases. Acupuncture also works only on the physical aspect of RSD, not on the neurological issues at the root of the disease. Therefore, acupuncture should not be the sole form of therapy for CRPS. The fact that acupuncture is not a traditional form of treatment for CRPS can also be a drawback, as most insurance companies will not approve payment for alternative forms of treatment.
There have been occurrences of complications as a result of acupuncture. Most of these issues have stemmed from improper sterilization of needles. In a few cases, the needles or materials used were defective, causing injury. In rare cases, there have been reports of pierced organs, although this could have been avoided with proper physician training of the procedure.
What Happens after Acupuncture?
After a typical session of acupuncture using needles, there is some bleeding when the needles are removed, and often some bruising as well. Acupuncture is a highly invasive form of therapy, and is usually only considered when more traditional methods have failed to show acceptable results. The use of acupuncture as a treatment for RSD is controversial.
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