Sudden injury or sprains usually respond well to acupuncture. The pain resulting from a sprained shoulder will often continue for some days or weeks after the initial injury. Once a clear diagnosis has been made acupuncture can usually be used to relieve this type of pain. Many of these ‘acute pains’ represent a self-limiting disease process; for instance a small burn is usually excruciatingly painful for a few days and then settles. If acupuncture is used as a form of pain relief for burns then its ‘pain relieving’ effect is only required for a few days. Because of the natural history of the pain it is therefore difficult to produce a clear picture of the effect of acupuncture on this type of ‘short-lived pain’. In China, acupuncture is usually given for acute pain, but in the West acupuncture is not generally available for ‘short-lived pain’ as there are not enough acupuncturists to provide this service.
The experience of a variety of acupuncturists, myself included, shows that, of the people treated for differing acutely painful conditions, about 70 per cent obtain swift and significant pain relief. If a fracture of the bone is present then the pain relief gained from acupuncture is less effective than if the injury is due to a strain or tear of the muscles, tendons or ligaments. The main advantage of treating these acute pains with acupuncture is that chronic pain can be avoided. A sudden shoulder injury may produce pain and immobility for many months, sometimes years, but if acupuncture is used when the pain occurs then it seems that chronic pain may be avoided. These ‘impressions’ about the use of acupuncture in acute pain are consistently quoted, both in the West and China, but until adequate statistical research is completed the effectiveness of acupuncture in ‘acute pain’ will remain no more than a clinical impression.