Why You Need Acupuncture Before & After Surgery

Acupuncture Health and Wellness

Posted by julia

Surgery can be a scary thing. Although best avoided, there are times where surgery is necessary. It can help you regain function and quality of life. Any procedure can have emotional and physical effects, but there are ways to minimize the negative effects of surgery. Being comfortable with your doctor is a must, so you feel good about the procedure and what it entails. Being at your best physically and mentally prior to surgery helps in faster recovery and less complications. See below why part of that preparation should be acupuncture treatments, and why it can help you get back to your amazing life faster.

  • It reduces stress & anxiety.

Surgery, no matter how small, can be stressful and can trigger emotional distress and anxiety. When your cortisol (stress hormone) is high, your body is in fight-or-flight mode, which can affect every system in your body. When your body and mind is relaxed, every system works better, your immune system remains strong, and you are better able to handle any situation.  Acupuncture has an amazing effect on your nervous system. It brings you from stress mode into relaxation mode pretty quickly. According to Integrative Cancer Answers, a study in China revealed patients who received acupuncture before surgery experienced 50% less anxiety than those who didn’t.  There is a point on the ear I use with every patient in my clinic, called “sympathetic,” which calms the nervous system. Depending on the procedure, you can even ask your MD to allow ear seeds to be placed before surgery, which can reduce your anxiety and make the whole process seem easier. *Ear seeds are tiny stickers with a tiny metal acupuncture “seed” that adheres to specific points on the ear. They are easy to wear and last a few days to a week.

  • It reduces pain during & after surgery.

I have heard of some dentists using acupuncture as an option for their patients who can’t tolerate anesthesia for routine dental procedures. This is so great, especially for kids! Acupuncture can help you avoid the pain and nausea you would feel, without the side effects of traditional drugs. Although many surgeries require general anesthesia, acupuncture can help minimize the side effects such as nausea, vomiting, and pain.

According to a recent study, many patients experience pain after surgery, with about 86% reporting moderate, severe, or extreme pain.  Opioids remain the mainstay for postoperative pain control. However, opioid analgesics are associated with undesirable side-effects, including nausea, vomiting, pruritus, sedation, dizziness, and decreased gut motility which can lead to delayed postoperative recovery. Patients who received acupuncture used less opioids for pain, postoperative pain decreased in the acupuncture group at 8 and 72 hours after surgery, and patients reported less side opioid-related side-effects such as nausea, dizziness, sedation, itchiness, and urinary retention.

Anesthesiologists from Duke University compiled data from over 15 randomized clinical trials from China, United States, and the United Kingdom. In this study, the results showed that an acupuncture treatment before surgery followed by acupuncture treatments after the surgery significantly reduced levels of postoperative pain as well as the use of painkillers after surgery.

  • It reduces scarring & swelling.

Sometimes scars heal great, and other times they get really red, raised, and form into a keloid. One of the most common scars I treat are C-section scars. It works so great. In Chinese Medicine, we call the treatment “surround the dragon,” where we basically put needles on every side of the scar to break up scar tissue, increase blood flow to that area, and therefore speed healing time. To help this even more, I use a micro-current electrical stimulation machine at a specific frequency that actually has been shown to increase tissue healing. That, along with some topical oils such as coconut oil blended with lavender, helichrysum, or geranium helps reduce scarring and helps your skin heal evenly. Acupuncture can work for any surgical scar, not just for c-sections. I recommend waiting until the scar is closed to prevent the risk of infection, and get clearance from your MD before seeking and treatment around the site of surgery.

Swelling is a common side effect from surgery, and overall, you want to minimize the length and amount of swelling to increase healing time. Acupuncture can reduce swelling by unblocking channels that were affected during surgery. It can also regulate proper fluid and energy flow, reduce inflammation, and therefore reduce the swelling in the affected areas. According to this case report, prolonged and persistent edema, or swelling, can compromise the healing and rehab process. Chronic wound fluid present in swelling can delay healing by inhibiting growth factors. Also, persistent edema can put pressure on nocioceptors (the sensory receptors you have in your body for pain), causing joint, ligament, or tendon pain.

A few cool studies: This study sought to find out if acupuncture could reduce post-operative pain and swelling in 40 patients undergoing teeth extractions. After 18 hours post-op, visual analogue scores were reduced from 24.5mm in the control group to 12.5mm in the acupuncture group. In this study, they sought to find out post-operative results after total knee arthroplasty. The acupuncture group had less pain, less swelling, and early recovery of range of motion in comparison to the control group.

  • It reduces nausea & vomiting related to anesthesia.

Pericardium 6 (P6) is an acupuncture point on the inside of the arm that we use for nausea & vomiting caused by anything from morning sickness to side effects from drugs. The National Institute of Health (NIH) recognizes acupuncture to be effective for nausea due to chemotherapy drugs. Treating nausea in a safe and side-effect free way is a huge win.  According to a recent study, stimulation of P6 post-op significantly reduced nausea, vomiting, and need for rescue antiemetics (prevent throwing-up).

  • It strengthens your immune system.

When your body is in balance, every system works better and you are less likely to get sick. There is no better time to be at your healthiest than before surgery. (Doctors will usually not perform surgeries if you already have an infection or illness). There are certain acupuncture points that stimulate ATP production (that is the energy source of cells). ST36 (Stomach 36) is on the lower leg alongside the shin bone, and is one the most widely studied acupuncture points for immune system building properties.

According to Integrative Cancer Answers,  studies have shown that acupuncture modulates a person’s immune function, which improves their resistance to infection. This is important after surgery when your body is compromised coupled with being in a hospital environment where risk of infection is much higher.

  • It increases strength, range of motion, and flexibility.

Depending on the surgery, there are days, weeks, or months of recovery. A lot of times your muscles atrophy (think: get smaller) due to underuse, and you have to go to physical therapy to build strength and range of motion in the effected areas. Acupuncture literally “turns on” muscles that have been “turned off” by adjacent muscles or due to injury or nerve damage. We use specific points, called motor points, where the most nerve fibers are. By stimulating these points, it actually resets a muscle that is firing incorrectly or not firing at all. Allowing the muscles to function properly allows them to build up their strength again, increases their range of motion because the tissues aren’t stuck together, and allows for the flexibility due to increased blood flow and circulation. Post-surgical rehabilitation combining physical therapy, chiropractor, massage, and acupuncture are some really great options.

  • It keeps your digestion and sleep in check.

Some of the most common prescribed medications after surgeries are opiods and/or non-steroidal anti-inflammatories – both of which can back you up (cause constipation). Your gut is the center of your immune system. There are millions of more bacteria cells than human cells in your body, so its so important to keep your good, healthy gut bacteria flourishing, and to get rid of waste so it doesn’t back up and mess up. Also, most of the serotonin (the neurotransmitter that makes you feel good) is primarily found in the GI tract, so feeling good relates back to a healthy colon. Some medications can affect your sleep as well, causing disturbed sleep, insomnia, or fogginess the next day. Acupuncture works to balance all your systems so your body can function at its optimal, and so that you can feel your best while recovering. Sleep is so important, where lots of recovery of cells take place. This needs to be restful and deep to get the maximal benefits.

Acupuncture is great tool for your pre-and post-surgery needs. It can help your body prepare as well as recover faster. I’ve even had some patients avoid surgery all together! If you do need surgery, do your best to prepare by keeping your body at its strongest so you can bounce back quicker. Celebrate the steps forward you take in rehab and recovery, and use that fuel as motivation to stay positive throughout the process.

Best in Health,


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