The Benefits of Acupuncture During Post-Operative Care

By Andrea Gurciullo

Surgery is serious, painful business, even when successful, and managing your recovery can be as delicate and important as the procedure itself.

Currently, the use of opioids is the most broadly accepted way to treat post-operative pain, but the benefits of these drugs come with a host of side effects that range from the unpleasantness of nausea and itchiness, to the danger of addiction.

Luckily, acupuncture is steadily emerging as an alternative and supplementary treatment to post-operative pain, minimizing opioid side effects and jumpstarting the body’s natural mechanisms for recovery.

When your body is in pain, your nerves transmit this information to your spinal cord and brain by releasing neurotransmitters. Opioids work by binding to these neurotransmitter receptors, preventing your nervous system from sending and receiving these chemical messages. The trouble is, popular opioids like morphine, codeine, hydrocodone, oxycodone and fentanyl often have side effects. These commonly include nausea and vomiting, drowsiness, itchiness and constipation.

In addition, opioid use over time can lead to increased tolerance, which requires people who have a long recovery ahead of them to take larger and larger doses for effective pain management. In certain cases, this can lead to dependence, not to mention the additional medley of drugs that often need to be taken to treat the side effects of the pain medication itself.

And pain is not the sole concern. Often in the aftermath of surgery, lingering pain, prolonged hospitalization, immobility and other types of bodily discomfort can undermine sleep patterns, immunity and other elements of your body’s efforts to heal and return to its normal rhythms.

How can acupuncture help you? With its long history as an effective painkiller, muscle relaxant and nausea-reducer, acupuncture is a logical replacement or accompaniment to more traditional post-operative treatment plans. Not only has it been consistently observed in clinical trials and medical literature to reduce pain directly, but when used in concert with opioids, it’s been shown to decrease patients’ reliance on them overall, lowering required dosages and time spent taking the drugs after surgery.

Beyond pain reduction, acupuncture’s benefits for post-operative patients are often cited as holistic and cumulative, from decreasing stress pre- and post-surgery (many practitioners recommend asking for ear seeds to prolong the positive effects of a pre-surgery acupuncture session), boosting your immune system during long hospital stays, minimizing drug side effects and even reducing internal and external scarring.

Consistently cited as having little to no negative side effects, many doctors are embracing acupuncture’s benefits and recommending its inclusion in post-operative care – even if researchers are still studying how the science supports acupuncture’s results.

So why wait? If you are suffering from post-operative pain or discomfort and looking to decrease your reliance on opioid painkillers, get in touch to see how acupuncture can help.

Andrea Gurciullo, LAc, MTOM, is an acupuncturist at ProClinix Sports Physical Therapy & Chiropractic who treats patients at the Pleasantville and Armonk locations. Gurciullo has more than 20 years’ experience in clinical practice and has successfully treated thousands of patients.  Her expertise includes acupuncture and sports medicine as well as post-operative pain and rehabilitation. For more information, call 914-202-0700 or e-mail agurciullo@proclinix.com.

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