Q: Can acupuncture help my back pain?
A: Yes. Acupuncture is a low risk, effective treatment for back pain.
Currently, back pain is a leading cause of disability worldwide, affecting an estimated 540 million people.
According to recent studies, published in 2011 by the Lancet, current medical treatments are falling short in reducing the widespread issue of back pain. Whether the pain arises from an injury or a specific medical condition, many people face the burden of back pain.
While the risk of back pain does increase with age due to occupational hazards and degenerative musculoskeletal problems, back pain remains an issue for people of all age groups for varying reasons.
What Causes Back Pain?
Common causes of back pain are derived from strain, tension and injury which can occur due to structural issues, poor posture, improper lifting and moving without ergonomic body awareness. Ergonomic refers to the way in which we interact with our environment in a body-conscious way and how we relate to or design objects for efficiency and comfort.
Injuries and conditions that arise and relate to back pain:
- Skeletal irregularities
- Prolonged straining of muscles or ligaments
- Muscle spasms and tension
- Sciatic pain
- Bulging, damaged, or ruptured disks
- Acute and/or chronic back pain
- Stress-induced muscle tension
Fortunately, acupuncture, the Traditional Chinese Medicine practice of inserting thin needles along specific points of the body to treat illness, can be a functional and successful solution to managing and healing back pain. Acupuncture is an ancient and holistic system that treats the body as a cohesive entity, rather than only treating the symptoms, and is most effective when performed in conjunction with lifestyle changes.
Some of the most significant lifestyle changes include:
- Exercise. Regular cardiovascular low-impact exercise is key to preventing and managing back pain. Running, swimming and hiking are all good options.
- Diet. You can work with your acupuncturist to determine what diet is best for you to get a balanced combination of nutritional foods. Maintaining a healthy weight is another factor in preventing back pain. To learn how Traditional Chinese medicine can benefit your health click here.
- Movement awareness. Become aware of your habits to keep structural integrity as you move through your day. Practices such as yoga, Qigong, and Taichi can help you build awareness, prevent injury, strengthen your muscles and improve flexibility.
- Quit Smoking. Smoking dysregulates your cardiovascular and respiratory system and has lasting effects that affect the body’s ability to stay healthy.
If you’ve had back pain, you know it can be uncomfortable, frustrating, and debilitating. It is a common reason people must visit the doctor or take a leave of absence from work. Moreover, conventional methods of drugs and surgery come with a high risk, treating only the symptoms and not the root of the issue.
Acupuncture is quickly becoming a popular option for pain management. This gentle yet effective treatment can help to both alleviate short-term, acute pain, and heal long-lasting chronic pain.
The effects of acupuncture are therapeutic and gentle.
In regards to long-term management, acupuncture is very low-risk compared to surgery or drugs. The World Health Organization performed studies over the course of two decades and found that acupuncture was an effective pain-relieving modality to get you back to living your life to the fullest.
How Exactly Does Acupuncture Work?
Acupuncture has been used for thousands of years to treat both acute and chronic pain, yet science is only just beginning to understand the pathways by which acupuncture helps to alleviate pain. Traditional Chinese Medicine is a medical system in which the practitioner examines imbalances in the body and seeks to bring the body back toward the harmony of homeostasis.
From a Western medical perspective, back pain is often caused by inflammation, which Eastern medicine views as stagnant or blocked energy, or Qi. Pain is a symptom of blocked or stagnant blood and Qi. Qi is the vital life force that surges through the body at all times.
When Qi is imbalanced or stagnant, this can be a result of one’s innate bodily constitution, poor diet, too much or too little exercise, injury, or chronic emotional distress. This often comes with stiffness, immobility, and swelling. Acupuncture can bring healthy Qi and blood flow back into these areas of inflammation to alleviate pain.
Recent studies show that acupuncture may relieve pain by releasing endorphins. These are the body’s natural pain-killing chemicals and affect the part of the brain that governs serotonin, a neurological chemical that boosts the mood.
These natural brain chemicals change the pain experience by triggering the release of chemicals and hormones in order to influence the body’s own internal modulating system. This can bring about a harmonizing effect on nerve and hormone function – bringing balance to both body and brain chemistry which are intrinsically connected. This improved energy and regulated biochemical balance, stimulated by the effect of acupuncture allow the body’s natural healing ability to activate, initiating well-being of mind, body, and spirit. Worldwide, ongoing research is continuously exploring a number of mechanisms for the pain-relieving effects of acupuncture.
What Are the Side Effects?
From a Traditional Chinese medical outlook, the specific treatment will depend on the cause of back pain which will vary depending on each individual issue. A trained acupuncturist will look holistically at the client and along with treating pain, they will seek to remedy the coinciding imbalances in the body.
This also relates to an individual’s habitual stresses and emotional state, any underlying energy weakness of the body, or regarding tissues that are undernourished from within. This can help balance digestion, hormones, emotional distress or any other issues that the individual is experiencing.
Essentially, instead of adverse side effects, acupuncture can help solve additional health issues such as insomnia, skin issues and anxiety on top of easing pain. Many report acupuncture helping with improved sleep, increased energy, reduced stress and contributing to an overall feeling of wellness.
Think in terms of positive side effects.
What about Cupping Therapy for My Back Pain?
Cupping is a term applied to a technique that uses small glass cups as suction and massage devices. These cups are placed on the skin to treat colds, congestion in the lungs, and muscular aches and pains.
Cupping helps repair muscles that have been injured or have accumulated lactic acid and other toxins as a result of exertion. These are usually your sore and achy spots in your back. It helps the muscles heal themselves by draining the toxins and pulling them to the lymph to be excreted.
Blood circulation is stimulated, and toxins that are released are moved to the lymph drainage network. This increase in blood flow helps repair the muscle by injecting it with more oxygen. Since cupping therapy also promotes a more efficient drainage of the lymph nodes, these toxins are quickly excreted from the body. To learn more about how cupping can help with back pain click here.
How Often Will I Need to Receive Acupuncture Treatments for Back Pain?
Treatment plans will depend on the individual’s specific needs, and whether the issue is chronic or acute. On average, once to twice a week can be sufficient until the symptoms diminish, possibly more or less, depending on the condition and severity. Once the pain has begun to subdue there can be an increased time in between treatments or on an as-needed basis.
Acupuncture is an important alternative to prescription drugs.
A quick fix solution that has become very prevalent in our current contemporary medical system is the over-prescription of opioid drugs. Opioids are used to block pain signals between the brain and the body and are typically prescribed to treat moderate to severe pain. In addition to controlling pain, opioids can make people feel relaxed and euphoric and can become incredibly addictive.
Adverse side effects can include slowed and shallow breathing, digestive issues, nausea, confusion, and drowsiness among the less harmful effects. In the midst of the current opioid epidemic, many people are looking for a natural way to ease pain and bring the body back in balance without the use of harmful chemicals that affect the brain in adverse ways.
Due to acupuncture’s effectiveness, it is a viable management option and a front line defense for pain. According to the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health (NCCIH), acupuncture is a good option for those who are seeking relief from chronic and acute pain conditions.
In conclusion, acupuncture is a worthy option to investigate for those seeking a higher quality of life and to manage pain. Furthermore, with the growing body of scientific work on acupuncture’s effectiveness as a popular alternative instead of habit-forming drugs, it’s an opportunity to utilize an ancient art and science. You might even strengthen your own connection of body and mind to harmonize your life in the process.
If you are looking to receive acupuncture in the Denver area or looking for an acupuncturist in Denver feel free to contact me here.
Han, J. S. (2004). Acupuncture and endorphins. Neuroscience Letters, 361(1-3), 258–261. doi: 10.1016/j.neulet.2003.12.019
Hill, J. D., Whitehurst, D. GT., Lewis, M., Bryan, S., Dunn, K., Foster, N., et al (2011). Comparison of stratified primary care management for low back pain with current best practice: a randomized controlled trial. The Lancet. Published: September 29, 2011. DOI:https://doi.org/10.1016/S0140-6736(11)60937-9
Acupuncture: In Depth. (2017, February 21). Retrieved from https://nccih.nih.gov/health/acupuncture/introduction.
ACUPUNCTURE: REVIEW AND ANALYSIS OF REPORTS ON CONTROLLED … (n.d.). Retrieved from http://www.iama.edu/OtherArticles/acupuncture_WHO_full_report.pdf.