Low Back Pain

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Can Acupuncture Treat Low Back Pain?

Acupuncture can definitely release back pain, an affliction that ranks among the most common problems that bring people to my office. Low back pain (lumbar) pain – can be acute or chronic. Acute back pain most of the time results from injury, although in many cases a commonplace movement can trigger low back pain. In most cases, it is due to strain on the muscles, and ligaments of the spine. Symptoms are usually felt in the lower back but sometimes may include shooting or stabbing pain that radiates into the buttock, hip or thigh. Patients experience a limited range of motion, trouble walking, sitting, or standing up straight. Back pain lasting more than three months is considered chronic.

Acupuncture Treatment for Lower Back Pain Explained

A typical treatment follows this routine: a patient is asked about the pain location. They are also asked to move their torso in order to determine which movement causes pain and restriction. The location of painful points and movement restriction helps to determine the involved acupuncture channels. This information is used to select acupuncture meridian and acupuncture points to be treated.

A typical point selection involves points located on the top of the hand and foot on the opposite side of the body. Acupuncture points on the back of the knee, elbow joints and thigh may also be useful. In the initial stages of the treatment, needles are not inserted into the painful area of the back, because the use of local points in the initial stages of treatment is inefficient. Some additional modalities, such as cupping and moxibustion are used to enhance the effects of the treatment.

The needles are retained for approximately 30 minutes. During this time most patients fall asleep or stay in a pleasant trance-like state.  Most of the patients are asked to come for treatment twice per week. In severe cases, treatment every day or every other day for a period of five days may be needed. 

Acupuncture for Low Back Pain

Herbal medicine is another powerful therapeutic modality for treating low back pain. The theory of herbal medicine recognizes that back pain is a symptom of a systemic imbalance that may involve an excess build-up of a pathogenic factor, as well as an underlying deficiency. The treatment principles that involve prescribing a therapeutic herbal formula extend far beyond giving patient substances that numb the pain or suppress chronic inflammation.  The ingredients of the herbal prescription focus on balancing the body, that is releasing pathological excess and nourishing insufficiencies. Often patients report an increase in libido, normalization of the menstrual cycle, deeper sleep, and other positive changes. Patients suffering from chronic low back pain are especially encouraged to explore herbal medicine, because of the unparalleled benefits it can offer.  

How Long Does It Take To Feel Better?

Feeling better after each acupuncture session is the sign of successful treatment. In some cases, a single acupuncture session is enough to relieve acute back pain, producing an instant and lasting cure, but generally, I advise my patients to undergo a whole therapeutic program that consists of eight acupuncture sessions that are administered at least twice a week. Progress after each session is carefully monitored. If symptoms do not change after six visits, I reassess my treatment plan or refer you out to another practitioner. 

Recommending lifestyle changes is a big part of my practice. I believe that anyone suffering from chronic back pain should become competent in self-care. Every patient with chronic low back pain gets a unique set of home-based exercises, stress-reduction techniques to build up core muscles and prevent future bouts of pain.

Scientific Research

Research supports the effectiveness of acupuncture for low back pain cupping therapy lower back pain treatment in both acute and chronic pain. Analysis from researchers at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York City found that acupuncture relieves chronic pain better than standard medical care. The studies compared acupuncture with the usual medical treatments available for different types of chronic pain. The investigators reviewed only the long-lasting studies (at least one month) and in which the effects of treatment were assessed at least a month after acupuncture treatment began. Clear evidence was found that acupuncture relieves chronic back, neck and shoulder pain. The report’s authors concluded that physicians and other health care providers should consider acupuncture as a valid treatment option for painful conditions. 

Causes of Low Back Pain

  • Muscle strain: the muscles and ligaments in the back can stretch or tear due to poor alignment in combination with inappropriate movements. Typical symptoms of a muscle strain are stiffness and spasms in the lower back, as well as muscle spasms
  • Disc Injury: This risk of disc injury increases with the lack of tonicity in the core muscles in combination with poor body alignment during physical activity. This results in abnormally high pressure on the disc which may result in disc bulge or herniation. The disc that sits between the spinal vertebrae extends outside its normal position. This can result in compression of the nerve root as it exits from the spinal cord and through the vertebral bones. 
  • Sciatica: occurs as a result of a herniated disc pressing on the sciatic nerve. The sciatic nerve travels from the spine to the legs. As a result of compression, sciatica can cause pain, numbness, tingling or lack of motor function in the legs and feet. 
  • Spinal Stenosis: most commonly occurs due to the degeneration of the discs between the vertebrae. This results in irritation of the nerve roots by bony spurs occur. Spinal stenosis can cause chronic low back and sciatic pain.
  • Abnormal Spine Curves: scoliosis, kyphosis, lordosis. They are typically diagnosed during childhood or adolescence. The abnormal curvature causes pain and muscle spasms. 
  • Arthritis: inflammation of intervertebral joints is called spondylitis. It may cause low back pain. 
  • Fibromyalgia: causes a long-term tenderness of the muscles, tendons, and joints.
  • Spondylolisthesis:  is a spinal condition that causes one of the lower vertebrae to slip forward onto the bone directly beneath it. Spondylolisthesis can cause chronic low back and sciatic pain.  This often results in compression of the nerve roots. The symptoms worsen when standing or walking.