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Acupuncture for Back Pain

By Natalie S. - Dec 29, 2019 1:03:00 PM

man waking up with back pain

Acupuncture for Back Pain

Back pain is a common problem. Most people will experience it to some extent during their lifetime. However, for some people, back pain is a daily occurrence and can prevent them from living life in the way they want.

Furthermore, treatment options are limited. Painkillers and anti-inflammatory drugs may help to relieve the symptoms of back pain, but they do little to address the underlying cause. Treatments such as massage and physical therapy may be more helpful, but how about acupuncture for back pain?

In this article, we take a look at the Chinese medicine view of this common condition, and discuss how acupuncture could help.

Back Pain Causes: A Different View

Traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) views the body in a very different way from western medicine. Therefore, it sees problems such as back pain as having a very different cause.

In western medical terms, back pain is usually a result of inflammation. This can stem from injuries, poor posture, or medical conditions such as arthritis. Back pain can also be caused by issues such as prolapsed discs. Structural problems like these can put pressure on the spinal nerves, leading to pain and other symptoms.

In Chinese medicine, on the other hand, pain is seen differently. It is usually the result of something known as ‘stagnation’ within the body. Stagnation occurs when substances such as qi and blood cannot flow as freely as they should. This can happen for a number of reasons, including injury and repetitive strain.

As you may know, TCM theory states that qi flows around the body in channels called meridians. In a healthy person, these meridians should be clear and free from obstructions. This allows qi to reach all areas of the body without difficulty.

However, if a particular area of the body is damaged or diseased, this can change the shape of the meridians, making it harder for qi to flow. When this happens, qi collects in one area, causing swelling, tenderness, and pain.

Furthermore, blood circulation also relies on a healthy flow of qi. So, when qi stops moving as it should, blood can quickly follow suit. When blood stagnates in addition to qi, the problem becomes even more severe and even more difficult to treat.

Back Pain and the Kidneys in Chinese Medicine

Another common cause of back pain in TCM is a weakness in the Kidney system. The Kidneys are located in the lower back, and so pain here could indicate a problem with this organ. If this is the case, the back pain will probably be accompanied by other symptoms, for example, knee pain, frequent urination, and fatigue.

Some common causes of back pain that involve the Kidneys are:

  • Kidney yin deficiency
  • Kidney yang deficiency
  • Kidney qi deficiency
  • Kidney essence deficiency

These conditions all have some similar features, but also some key differences. They can be diagnosed according to any accompanying symptoms that occur in addition to back pain.

How Does Acupuncture for Back Pain Work?

acupuncture for back pain-2The main purpose of acupuncture for back pain is to restore the free flow of qi and blood, removing stagnation from the body. It does this by using fine needles to redirect the qi flow in painful areas, ensuring that it gets to where it is needed most.

While your acupuncturist is likely to choose a selection of points in the painful area, they may also use points elsewhere on your body. This is because in acupuncture, everything is connected. Therefore, do not be surprised if your acupuncturist chooses points on your hips, legs, and feet in addition to those on your back.

If a Kidney imbalance is at the root of the back pain, then acupuncture may help here too. It can help to strengthen this organ and improve its overall function, especially if combined with Chinese herbal medicine and a Kidney-friendly diet. Other Chinese medicine treatments that may help include massage, cupping therapy, and moxibustion.

In western medical terms, acupuncture for back pain has several possible benefits:

  • Relieving local inflammation
  • Influencing the nervous system to reduce pain
  • Releasing neurotransmitters such as endorphins to boost natural pain relief
  • Improving circulation to promote healing
  • Relaxing the muscles to release tension

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So, now you know some of the major benefits of acupuncture for back pain. But what does the research say?

Research on Acupuncture for Back Pain

Back pain, especially lower back pain, is one of the conditions that acupuncture researchers have investigated most thoroughly. A 2015 study published in the journal Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine summarized some of the most relevant findings.

The study was an overview of systematic reviews, meaning that it collated the results of numerous studies from around the world. It included the results of 16 systematic reviews that took place between the years 1998 and 2013. Some of these studies were on acupuncture for acute low back pain, while the remainder were on acupuncture for chronic low back pain. 

Unfortunately, many of the studies had poor methodologies, making it difficult to draw firm conclusions. The evidence that acupuncture is effective for acute lower back pain was especially unclear.

However, the authors were able to make a more positive assessment of acupuncture for chronic low back pain. They found that acupuncture consistently provided clinically relevant, short-term benefits for lower back pain patients. These benefits included both pain relief and functional improvement.

Although more high-quality studies are necessary to confirm the effects of acupuncture on acute back pain, it does appear to relieve more chronic conditions. To learn more about how this treatment could help you, simply get in touch. We will be happy to answer your questions about acupuncture for back pain.

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