Low back pain is one of the most common reasons that people come for acupuncture treatment. In fact, it is one of the most common reasons that people see a doctor of any sort, and is a leading cause of disability worldwide.
This uncomfortable condition can be acute or chronic, and range from the sharp lower back pain of muscle strain to the constant ache of osteoarthritis (OA) of the spine. In many cases, lower back pain can be caused by something as simple as bad posture or lifting something awkwardly. However, back pain can also be a sign of a more serious condition and should not be ignored.
In this article, we will look at some of the most common causes of lower back pain from an eastern and western perspective, and explore some different ways to relieve this nagging ailment.
Causes of Lower Back Pain – A Western View
From a western medical perspective, there are many different causes of lower back pain. Many of these involve inflammation of some sort.
Inflammation happens as a result damage to the muscles or joints, either as a result of injury or degenerative conditions such as OA of the spine. Although inflammation is an important part of the healing process, when it gets out of hand, it can lead to symptoms such as swelling, stiffness, and pain.
One of the most common causes of inflammation in the lower back is muscle strain. This can happen if you are injured playing sports, in a car accident, or simply by lifting a heavy box in the wrong way. This can lead to sharp lower back pain, muscle spasms, or sciatica, especially if one of the discs in your spine is damaged.
Your discs are small, cushion-like sacs that sit between your vertebrae and act like shock absorbers for your spine. Sometimes, twisting or lifting something awkwardly can cause these discs to pop out of place and press on the nerves which run in and out of your spinal column. This condition is known as a slipped disc or prolapsed disc, and is one of the leading causes of sciatica and lower back pain.
Another common problem affecting the vertebrae is OA of the spine. This is a degenerative condition where the cartilage between the vertebrae wears away over time. This allows the small joints of the spine to become inflamed and painful, and causes stiffness and loss of flexibility.
A similar degenerative condition which can cause back pain is ankylosing spondylitis. Like OA, this disease causes pain and swelling around the spine. However, ankylosing spondylitis tends to affect younger people whereas OA is more common in the older generation.
It is also normal to suffer from lower back pain in pregnancy. It is especially common in early pregnancy as hormonal changes cause the tendons and ligaments to soften in preparation for carrying a baby and labor.
Other lower back pain causes include stress, fractures of the spine, kidney infections, and in rare cases, cancer.
Causes of Lower Back Pain – An Eastern View
Eastern healing systems such as traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) take a very different view of the causes of lower back pain.
From a TCM viewpoint, one of the most common reasons for back pain is a weakness of the Kidneys. The Kidneys are located in the lower back, so it is little wonder that pain in this area is related to these organs. Lower back pain due to Kidney deficiency is often accompanied by weak or painful knees since the Kidney channel passes through these joints too.
The Kidneys are partnered with the Bladder in TCM, and the Bladder channel runs down the back, forming two parallel lines on either side of the spine. When the qi and blood in this channel are not flowing as well as they should, this can also cause pain in any area of the back.
When to Get Help for Lower Back Pain
Lower back pain is often acute and will go away by itself after a few weeks. However, there are some situations when you should seek professional help for your back pain.
See a doctor if your back pain is very severe or becomes worse as time goes on. Back pain accompanied by the following symptoms should also be investigated:
- Numbness or tingling
- Loss of sensation
- Difficulty walking
- Loss of bladder or bowel control
- Shooting pain in the groin
Women with lower back pain in pregnancy should seek medical attention if they are in their second or third trimester (it could be a sign of premature labor), have vaginal bleeding, experience loss of sensation in the legs or genitals, or have pain just underneath their ribs.
Treatment for Lower Back Pain
Conventional treatments for lower back pain include anti-inflammatory drugs and painkillers. Exercise and stretching are also an important way to manage back pain, and it is a good idea to see a physical therapist to get some help with this.
Other lower back pain treatments include massage and manipulation, applying heat or ice packs, and complementary therapies such as acupuncture or even CBT. Surgery may be necessary in some cases, but is usually seen as a last resort due to the risks involved.
You can also try to manage your back pain by making some simple lifestyle changes. Paying attention to your posture is key, as is staying active and stretching regularly. Eating well and maintaining a healthy weight may also help, as being overweight can put an extra strain on your spine and increase your risk of developing OA.
Acupuncture for Lower Back Pain
Acupuncture benefits lower back pain is several ways. From a western perspective, it helps to reduce inflammation and improve blood flow to the painful area. Acupuncture for lower back pain also works by changing the way that your brain perceives pain and releasing chemicals called endorphins, your body’s natural painkillers.
From a TCM point of view, acupuncture relieves pain by helping qi and blood to flow smoothly in the channels. This prevents blocks from occurring and reduces swelling, stiffness, and pain.
Acupuncture is a holistic treatment, meaning that it aims to treat the root cause of a disease as well as the symptoms. If your lower back pain is due to a Kidney deficiency, then acupuncture and Chinese herbal medicine can help to build up your Kidney function and treat your lower back pain from the inside out.
Acupuncture for lower back pain is safe and has been tried and tested over the course of thousands of years. However, it is not a quick fix and you might need several treatments before you notice a major difference. This is especially true if you have had your symptoms for a while.
In the meantime, treatments such as cupping therapy, stretching, and massage can offer symptomatic relief while your lower back pain is being treated at a deeper level.