Acupuncture for Post-Operative Pain

Post-operative pain is a common experience after surgery, although in a surprisingly large number of cases (estimated at between 10% and 50%) it persists longer than expected, becoming chronic post-operative pain.

Post-operative pain may arise from peripheral nerve damage sustained during surgery, from inflammation at the site of the surgical procedure, or from general tissue damage. Patients with a history of chronic pain disorders, anxiety and/or depression, excessive fear of surgery, or those who have had extensive or complicated surgery may be more at risk of developing chronic post-operative pain.

TCM in the Treatment of Post-operative Pain

In the treatment of acute post-operative pain (i.e. pain immediately after surgery) acupuncture has much to offer. From the point of view of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), surgery disrupts the flow of Qi and Blood in the vicinity of the surgical incision – the larger or deeper the incision, the greater the disruption. Acupuncture is effective in helping to restore this free flow of Qi and Blood, which in turn promotes healing and eases pain.

Chronic post-operative pain is a more complex problem and TCM treatment is necessarily more sophisticated and tailored to the patient; for instance by taking into account any pre-existing health problems not necessarily related to the surgery. This is a holistic approach to pain relief which aims not only to restore the free flow of Qi and Blood in and around the site of the surgery, but also to address any deeper imbalances in the patient’s body-mind which may be compromising healing and recovery. Treatment may include acupuncture, Chi Kung exercises, Tuina massage, cupping therapy and dietary advice.

Whilst surgery may be necessary, even with modern procedures it still represents a relatively drastic interruption of natural body processes, and thus the kind of care TCM provides can help the patient recover fully, both physically, psychologically and even perhaps spiritually.

How Helpful is TCM in the Treatment of Post-operative Pain?

A randomised controlled trial1 which compared acupuncture with a common analgesic drug in patients recovering from visceral surgery found that patients receiving acupuncture reported significantly less pain (and, incidentally, less nausea and vomiting) than in the control group. Another2  randomised controlled trial investigating the use of acupuncture and electroacupuncture in providing pain relief to women following caesarean section found that treatment could significantly delay the time of requesting pain relief medication, and the amount of such medication required.


1 Grube t. et al  Influence of acupuncture on postoperative pain, nausea and vomiting after visceral surgery: a prospective, randomized comparative study of metamizole and standard treatment [Article in German]. Schmerz 2009; 23: 370-6


2 Wong RH et al. Analgesic effect of electroacupuncture in postthoracotomy pain: a prospective randomized trial. Ann Thorac Surg 2006; 81: 2031-6.


The Sean Barkes Clinic does not claim to cure any conventional medical disease states. Traditional Chinese Medicine seeks to re-establish and maintain the harmonious function of the human body-mind using tried and tested principles that have been discovered and matured over millennia. A Western medical diagnosis provides very little by way of insight in informing a Chinese Medical diagnosis. Patients usually recognise their own condition in terms of the medical disease category that they have been given by their GP or other conventional medical practitioner. The research presented here is merely an indication of the potential to draw parallels between Traditional Chinese Medicine and Modern Western Medicine.