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Faster recovery: Acupuncture before and after surgery

When did you first hear about acupuncture?
Often, it’s word of mouth when someone else
has tried it and found that it really helped
their symptoms and they suggest you try it too.
​But how did acupuncture “get discovered” in the West?


Back in 1971, when Nixon was on a state visit to China, he was accompanied by a journalist, James Reston, who developed appendicitis and had surgery without general anesthetic. After his appendix was removed through conventional surgery at the Anti-Imperialist Hospital in Beijing, his post-operative pain was treated by Li Chang-Yuan with acupuncture. He went on to write about the treatment in the New York Times and introduced acupuncture to the US and many other western cultures.

Although there are stories about acupuncture being used for anaesthesia – today we look at how it can help pre- and post-surgery to help with recovery and pain.

  • Reduces stress & anxiety prior to surgery

Facing surgery, no matter how big or small a procedure, can be very stressful. Stress increases the cortisol levels in the body and activates the body’s flight-or-fight mode. On the other hand when your body and mind are relaxed then all the systems in the body can work at their optimal level helping to boost the immune system and to activate the body’s natural healing mechanisms.
Acupuncture helps to activate the body’s parasympathetic nervous system – the rest-and-digest mode – and to ease that stress & anxiety.

  • Less pain during & after surgery
  • Reduces nausea & vomiting
  • Less scarring & swelling
  • Increases strength, range of motion and flexibility

Up to 86% people report moderate, severe or extreme pain after surgery, with opioids the normal prescribed medication for post operative pain. Systematic reviews suggest that acupuncture and ear acupuncture may also be effective for this post-surgery pain relief. Of course, acupuncture can be used along side these medications and can lead to less the medications being required and reducing their side effects.One of the most studied points in acupuncture research is PC 6 which has been shown to treat nausea and vomiting for many things including post-surgery and for chemotherapy related nausea. Again, this may be used in combination with anti-emetics (anti sickness tablets) and may mean that you don’t need to take as much medication overall.In acupuncture we use a technique called “surrounding the dragon” to help treat scar tissue on the body. This is usually done once your scar has healed and you have permission from your doctor or consultant. Treatments involve placing very fine, superficial needles to surround the scar itself to help increase blood flow to the area and speed up the healing process.Depending on the surgery that you have had you will often be prescribed some rehabilitive exercises to help you to recover. These exercises can be combined with qigong (Chinese exercises combining breath with movement). These exercises help move the flow of qi or energy in the body and help build up muscle strength and increase flexibility and range of motion.

If you’d like to know more about how acupuncture can support you when you have surgery coming up get in touch for a free 20 minute phone consultation today.

References
http://www.nytimes.com/1971/07/26/archives/now-about-my-operation-in-peking-now-let-me-tell-you-about-my.html
https://www.acupuncture.org.uk/a-to-z-of-conditions/a-to-z-of-conditions/post-operative-pain.html
https://corporate.dukehealth.org/news-listing/acupuncture-reduces-pain-need-opioids-after-surgery
http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0966653298000493

This article was co-authored by Laura Ichajapanich & Stacey Chapman