Acupuncture and Surgery: Can It Help You?

Acupuncture and Surgery: Can It Help You?

When it comes to surgery, you’re immediately promoted to ‘manager’: you’ll likely have to manage pain, mobility limitations, digestive issues, poor sleep, inflammation, and other unfortunate side effects.

Not exactly the “promotion” you were looking for? We don’t blame you.

Your physician will be your “assistant manager,” providing you with the medical support you need to prepare and recover from your procedure. But, what if alternative medicine could make your new job to get healthy a little easier?

Today, we are taking a closer look at acupuncture, an ancient Eastern medical practice that involves placing fine needles on the surface of the skin. Are the healing promises of these small pins the answer to pre and post-op pain management? Let’s find out!

acupuncture for surgery

Nurturing Needles: Acupuncture Before Going Under

While Chinese medical professionals have been using acupuncture as a remedy for thousands of years, its appearance and popularity in Western culture has been far more recent. In fact, over the last 40 years alone, acupuncture has become one of the most commonly practiced forms of integrative medicine in our neck of the woods, with over 10 million treatments performed each year!

You might think that the entrance of acupuncture to the Western medical scene would mean that the founders of the practice and the “newbies” would agree on exactly how it works. But alas, Eastern practitioners hold firm to the belief that acupuncture treatment helps to restore the body’s “chi”, or energy life force, while the medical community of the Western world argue that the practice simply stimulates specific nerves and muscle tissue.

One thing that both communities do agree on? Acupuncture has been reported to provide a host of benefits to suffering patients. Some conditions that have been shown to benefit from using acupuncture:

  • Arthritis
  • Depression
  • Insomnia
  • Migraines
  • Sciatica
  • Digestive disorders
  • Weight control
  • Anxiety
  • Nausea
  • Pain

A quick glance at that list makes it crystal clear how integrating acupuncture into your game plan could be the hot ticket to managing pre-op discomfort.

Before a procedure, many experience pre-surgery jitters, with nerves running at an all-time high. This can lead to “the anxiety domino effect,” as stress often leads to poor sleep, digestive issues, and other unpleasant side effects that just seem to pile on. Luckily, acupuncture has been shown to provide patients with relief from these symptoms, and has become an accepted form of supplemental treatment by many Western physicians.

Another pre-op plus to using acupuncture? It’s reported and proven results in the realm of pain management, a topic we will dive into more thoroughly as we look into the benefits of these tiny needles following surgery.

acupuncture for surgery

Acupuncture After Surgery: Providing Relief Through Pin Pricks

You might be asking yourself, “how are NEEDLES supposed to help to alleviate post surgery pain?” which is a fair question! Luckily, the fine nature of acupuncture needles allows them to be inserted without causing any additional discomfort. However, as we mentioned, the mechanism behind how acupuncture actually works to relieve pain in the body is still up for debate between Eastern and Western practitioners.

In the Western world, most professionals argue that acupuncture nerve stimulation activates the nervous system response to release endorphins, a group of hormones that can provide some serious help in managing pain. On top of that, acupuncture has been shown to increase blood flow, which can reduce recovery time, particularly with patients that may deal with poor circulation following surgery.

One thing both communities can agree on is that those precise pin pricks do in fact improve post-operative pain. Reduced pain means a reduced reliance on pain medication, which is a major win during recovery.

Another awesome advantage of acupuncture? The practice has been shown to improve immune system function, which is a huge post-op bonus when it comes to combating an additional illness. Research has shown that a major surgery can seriously suppress the patient’s immune response, potentially increasing the time needed to recover, and raising the possibility for infection. So, an added immuno-boost through acupuncture could go a long way for those who are looking to remain healthy and heal up in a hurry!

acupuncture for surgery

The final nugget of Eastern medical wisdom that we’ll dive into is the effect of acupuncture on nausea – another unfortunate effect that comes with the recovery period. In fact, it has been reported that up to 80% of patients experience nausea and vomiting following a surgical procedure. In addition to discomfort, GI issues post-op can have major consequences, such as dehydration, nutrient deficiency, and other factors that will only serve to push back your bounce-back.

Several studies have shown how acupuncture can improve digestive distress, with growing evidence to suggest the effectiveness of these nausea-fighting needles. So if the thought of post-op gut stress makes you sick to your stomach, consider adding acupuncture to your recovery program.

Surgery is a complicated process and will require an individualized combo of treatment tools to manage pain and other side effects that come with a major procedure. So while acupuncture may not be fully agreed upon in terms of the “why” or “how” it effectively acts on the body, it is agreed that it is safe and has made a difference in many people’s lives.  

Added bonus: many health insurance plans will now cover acupuncture, making the treatment more financially accessible. So, if you’re curious about adding a few extra pin pricks to your pre and post surgery protocol, we suggest chatting with your doctor to find out if acupuncture could be right for you!