Postoperative pain

Pain after surgery is common, often severe, and largely unnecessary. Effective relief of post-operative pain is vital, and not just for humanitarian reasons. Such pain probably prolongs hospital stay, as it can affect all organ systems, including: respiratory (e.g. reduced cough, sputum retention, hypoxemia); cardiovascular (e.g. increased myocardial oxygen consumption, ischemia); gastrointestinal (e.g. decreased gastric emptying, reduced gut motility, constipation); genitourinary (e.g. urinary retention); neuroendocrine (e.g. hyperglycemia, protein catabolism, sodium retention); musculoskeletal (e.g. reduced mobility, pressure sores, increased risk of DVT); and psychological (e.g. anxiety, fatigue). There is now evidence that post-operative pain relief has a significant physiological benefit.

In general, acupuncture is believed to stimulate the nervous system and cause the release of neurochemical messenger molecules. The resulting biochemical changes influence the body’s homeostatic mechanisms, thus promoting physical and emotional well-being. Stimulation of certain acupuncture points has been shown to affect areas of the brain that are known to reduce sensitivity to pain and stress, as well as promoting relaxation and deactivating the ‘analytical’ brain, which is responsible for anxiety.

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Acupuncture may help relieve post-operative pain by:

  • altering the brain’s chemistry, increasing endorphins and neuropeptide Y levels, and reducing serotonin levels.