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Acupuncture for back pain

On this page

  1. Overview
  2. Symptoms
  3. Causes
  4. Treatment
  5. Self-care tips
  6. Factsheet

1. Overview

Back pain is one of the most common medical condition that people will complain about in their lives.

It can affect anyone at any age and most people will suffer from it at some point in their lives. It is the UK’s leading cause of disability and one of the main reasons for work related sickness absence.

2. Symptoms

Signs and symptoms of back pain can include:

  • Muscle ache
  • Shooting or stabbing pain
  • Pain that radiates down your leg
  • Pain that worsens with bending, lifting, standing or walking
  • Pain that improves with reclining

3. Causes

The most common cause of back problems in western medicine is a trapped nerve from the spinal cord. Traditional Chinese medicine believes the same but caused by tension in the muscle too.

There are different types of back pain. Most are caused by sprains, muscle strains, minor injuries, or a pinched or irritated nerve. Sitting for long periods is bad for our lower back. It causes the coccyx to push down on the nerves running through it such as the sciatic nerve. Traditional Chinese medicine believes that back pain can be caused by a weakness or stagnation of energy.

Back pain can occur during pregnancy, or because of stress, viral infection or a kidney infection. In Chinese medicine it can also be caused by overwork and tiredness and is related to a weakness of kidney energy.

4. Treatment of back pain

Conventional treatment for back pain involves pain killers such as anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs). Pain is a messenger within the nervous system; it's showing you there is a problem. However, most people with back pain shoot the messenger by taking painkillers. Treatment for chronic pain involves taking opiate based pain killers, which can be addictive leading to the abuse of harder drugs such as heroin. Acupuncture offers a safer alternative as its non-addictive and stimulated acupuncture can beat a lot of pain medication in treating chronic pain.

Acupuncture for back pain

Acupuncture relieves back pain by using thin needles to stimulate energy points on the body, which regulates the movement of energy and blood. It relieves stagnation in the muscles allowing nerve signals to move freely. In western medicine acupuncture is thought to relieve pain by stimulating the nerves. Sometimes, an acupuncturist can use stimulated acupuncture which uses an electric current to strongly activate the flow of qi.

Pain can be likened to when water in pipes freezes and bursts, the bursting action is like the stabbing pain. Acupuncture moves the blockage thereby relieving the pain and is anti-inflammatory. I treat a lot of back pain problems and have found acupuncture to be very successful in relieving pain, so much so, many patients can reduce the dose of their painkiller medication.

Research hosted by the national center for complementary and alternative medicine has shown the effectiveness of acupuncture in the treatment of back problems. Studies show that real acupuncture is better at reducing back pain than sham acupuncture.

Watch my animated video below which explains how acupuncture can relieve back pain.

Research has shown that acupuncture can treat chronic lower back problems.

5. Self-care tips

There are many things you can do to help with relieve and manage your back pain.

An easy way of treating back pain yourself is to either place a hot water bottle on the painful area, as this helps the muscles to relax, which can ease the pain. In traditional Chinese medicine, cold packs, cold compression packs or a bag of frozen vegetables are never used. Cold causes stagnation and slows the self-recovery systems within the body down. Yes, it reduces inflammation, but why would you want to reduce inflammation, when that is what is healing the body? Cold can make the pain worse in the long term.

Another great way of helping your back is to do exercises and stretches regularly, not bed rest, for example attending a yoga or Pilates class. This helps to stretch the muscles in the back, which relieves muscle tension and pain. Always be aware of your posture as bad posture can cause back pain. Stand up straight with your shoulder blades dropped and don't sit crossed legged.

Things like sitting too much, commuting on trains or long drives using a manual gearbox can aggravate a weak back causing pain. Try standing more, stay active, motion is lotion as they say, reduce exposure to stress, and avoid long drives.

6. Back pain factsheet

For further information, read the acupuncture for back pain factsheet.