Back pain is a common condition which most people will experience to some extent during their lifetime. It is also one of the most common reasons why people come for acupuncture treatment.
According to traditional Chinese medicine (TCM), there are many different reasons why a person may be suffering from back pain. Let's take a closer look at some of causes of back pain in TCM and how acupuncture can help.
According to TCM, the state of our health depends on a substance called qi. It has many different functions within the body - warming, nourishing and protecting. In order to reach every part of the body, qi circulates in channels known as meridians.
Each organ has a corresponding meridian, allowing qi to flow through it and keep it functional. When qi is flowing freely, every organ, muscle and tissue will be healthy and work as it should. However, the circulation of qi can be easily blocked causing qi stagnation.
One of the most common causes of qi stagnation is invasion by external factors known poetically as the “six evils”. They include cold, heat, summer heat, dampness, dryness and wind. When cold, heat, dampness or wind are allowed to enter the body, they can block the channels and prevent qi from flowing smoothly.
Qi stagnation can also be caused by long term emotional stress and physical issues such as poor posture. Qi stagnation causes many different symptoms, but one of the most common is pain. The pain associated with qi stagnation is usually dull or aching in nature. It may come and go and can be relieved with heat, pressure and movement.
In TCM, blood has a close relationship with qi. Blood is responsible for nourishing qi, while qi helps the blood to move in the vessels. Because of this relationship, long-term qi stagnation can cause the blood to stagnate too. It becomes sluggish and cannot flow freely in the veins. This condition is known as blood stasis in TCM.
Like qi stagnation, blood stasis is a major cause of pain. However, the type of pain is different.
Pain due to blood stasis is sharper or stabbing in nature. It is fixed in one area and will be aggravated by heat, pressure and movement.
One of the best examples of blood stasis is bruising. This type of blood stasis is caused by physical trauma which damages the blood vessels and allows blood to pool in one area. This causes the familiar symptoms of swelling, tenderness and loss of mobility.
So back pain caused by an injury may be due to blood stasis alone. However, it is more often due to qi stagnation and it is not unusual for the two conditions to exist together, causing a combination of different symptoms.
Back pain can be successfully treated with acupuncture and TCM in a number of ways. Acupuncture is good for restoring the flow of qi and blood and preventing stagnation. It also relaxes the muscles and relieves inflammation and pain. Local points on the back may be combined with points elsewhere on the body to provide a deeper level of treatment.
Chinese herbal preparations can be taken internally to help with expelling pathogens, moving qi and blood and strengthening the Kidneys. They can also be applied externally as oils or liniments which can provide pain relief directly to the affected area. Massage, stretches and exercises may also be added to your treatment program to keep your muscles flexible and strong.
Finally, you may be given dietary or lifestyle advice if needed. This will be tailored to your individual needs and incorporated into your daily regime to complement your treatment and provide sustainable, longer lasting relief from back pain.
Acupuncture offers a safe and natural alternative to opioids and NSAIDs. It has been used for thousands of years to treat a wide range of conditions including acute pain. From a TCM perspective, acupuncture is an effective way to move qi and blood, dispersing stagnation and relieving pain.
From a western, scientific viewpoint, acupuncture has been shown to:
When you come for your first session, your licensed acupuncturist will ask you pointed questions to help them determine if you are experiencing pain that is more related to qi stagnation or blood stagnation.
Then they will diagnose which channels of the body have been most affected. This will help them determine which acupuncture points are most appropriate for your specific case at that specific time. It is typical to have some variation in the points used from one session to another as your condition changes.
The needles will stay in for about 30 minutes, and your provider will be checking on you to make sure you stay comfortable. Most people fall asleep with the needles in - it's that relaxing! Learn more about what to expect here.
In our clinical experience of over 10 years and 100,000 sessions, we have found that most people will experience at least some relief from their acute pain after the first session. In order for acupuncture to achieve it's full, cumulative, lasting effect, we have found most cases require 5 sessions.