Post Surgical Recovery

In ancient China, traditional Chinese medicine was used for treating wounds of injured warriors for thousands of years, and its techniques have been honed and modified during that time. While surgeries are not exactly battlefield traumas, post-operative wounds and scars bear some resemblance. At the same time, battlefield injuries are designed to cause as much damage as possible, post-surgical wounds are designed to heal fast, and the methods of TCM are perfectly suited for promoting wound healing as well as reducing scar formation. An increasing number of research studies confirms the methods’ efficacy for various types of surgeries, and researchers recommend their use for a variety of reasons, which include traditional Chinese medicine’s capability to reduce pain, inflammation, and even stress before and after surgery, and taking advantage of its resources surely is a good idea for those who need it.

Western Medical Point of View

One study concludes that acupuncture can help arthroscopic acromioplasty (surgery on a shoulder) recovery on at least three levels: (1) by lowering pain level, (2) by reducing painkiller use, and (3) by increasing range of motion (Gilbertson, Wenner, & Russell, 2003). Another study that investigated electro-acupuncture use before and after breast cancer surgery concluded that it can be an effective alternative to opioids, and the researchers point out that the total hospitalization for each patient was shorter (Sherman, 2017). Due to the opioid crisis, one paper puts a particularly strong emphasis on acupuncture being a safe, inexpensive, and effective alternative in a wide variety of settings: “Acupuncture can safely, easily, and cost-effectively be incorporated into hospital settings as diverse as the emergency department, labor, and delivery suites, and neonatal intensive care units to treat a variety of pain seen commonly in hospitals. Acupuncture is already being successfully and meaningfully utilized by the Veterans Administration and various branches of the U.S. Military” (Bolash et al., 2014). According to one study, acupuncture as well as other modalities of traditional Chinese medicine can even be effectively used to reduce preoperative anxiety (Attias et al., 2016). Even in such extremely difficult cases as cancer surgeries, western and traditional Chinese medicine integrate very well: “Traditional Chinese medicine can be used to maximize the body’s ability to fight cancer, to prepare the body for the assaults of allopathic treatments and to treat resulting side effects as they occur. It can enhance recovery time, improve quality of life, and perhaps even improve prognosis and decrease the risk of recurrence” (Chiaramonte & Lao, 2010).

Effectiveness of Traditional Chinese Medicine

The reality is, traditional Chinese medicine can definitely be effective in post-operative recovery. During its thousands of years in developing and testing, traditional Chinese medicine acquired and tested methods for wound healing during the many wars that took place in China and Asian countries. As a result, it includes some effective techniques not only for wound healing but also for suppressing scar formation (Men et al., 2020). Its effectiveness may depend on a variety of contributing factors, such as (1) the extensiveness of the damage done by the surgery and the disease can play a huge role; (2) the individual patient’s reaction to the modalities of traditional Chinese medicine can play certain role; and finally, (3) whether it is acupuncture, or Chinese herbal medicine, or cupping therapy, or tui na, or qigong exercises, the outcome often depends a lot on a treating practitioner, on his or her experience as well as the patient’s individual reaction toward the practitioner. Additionally, due to latest developments that touched even the practice of traditional Chinese medicine, electro-acupuncture has shown effectiveness in reducing stress as well as inflammation in patients (Chi et al., 2019). Generally speaking, despite individual differences in success rates, traditional Chinese medicine is more effective than it is not, and including it in post-operative recovery is a good idea in most cases. In addition to the method’s capability to reduce inflammation, pain, and stress, it is inexpensive and noninvasive and can potentially provide great relief and reduce the hospital stay. Just its capability alone to reduce the necessity of taking pain-relieving medications makes it worth trying.    

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