Will Acupuncture Work to Reduce My Stress and Back Pain?

How Traditional Chinese Medicine Can Relieve Back Pain

Businesswoman suffering from back pain at officeQuestion: I'm a woman in my early 50s, and I have chronic low back pain caused by spinal stenosis. I also think my pain may be aggravated by extreme stress from my job and family responsibilities. I have high blood pressure, too, which I take medication for. I'm thinking about trying acupuncture and traditional Chinese medicine to help me cope with my back pain and stress. Will it work for me? How many sessions will I need to go to in order to see results?
—Westwood, NJ

Answer: Yes—your low back pain caused by spinal stenosis can be aggravated by the stress in your life. Not being able to deal with this stress effectively has consequences, such as high blood pressure, which you mentioned you have. But you're in luck: Acupuncture and traditional Chinese medicine can help you cope with your stress—and your back pain.

Traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) is a family of treatments, including acupuncture, herbal remedies, and nutrition. It can be used to ease your back pain and other symptoms. The goal of TCM is to bring the body into a state of balance. We can tell our body is out of balance when we have a symptom, such as back pain.

In traditional Chinese medicine, there's something called Qi (also known as Chi), which is the life force that flows freely throughout the body. Whenever there is pain in the body, it means that the Qi is "stuck."

Acupuncture helps the Qi to flow freely again by restoring balance in the body. It promotes better circulation of blood, lymph, and oxygen, and it can also help to reduce inflammation and relax tense muscles.

In addition to addressing your back pain caused by spinal stenosis, acupuncture can help you manage stress. Stress can deplete Qi. But after an acupuncture session, many people feel a deep sense of relaxation. That's because acupuncture stimulates the parasympathetic nervous system, which is one of the 2 main branches of the nervous system. Stimulating the parasympathetic nervous system can actually calm you because when it's activated, it signals your brain to relax and unwind.

Yoga, deep breathing, and meditation also stimulate the parasympathetic nervous system. The body can heal more effectively when this branch of the nervous system is activated.

Unfortunately, I can't say how many sessions you will need to see the results of acupuncture. The number of sessions depends on the severity of your back pain and stress, and of course that's individualized. I can say, though, that if the pain or stress is chronic—as in your case—it may take longer to see results.

I recommend you try 4 to 6 acupuncture treatment sessions. After those treatments, talk to your acupuncturist about whether you'll need more treatments. Some people feel it's important to fit in regular acupuncture treatments to feel well. Of course, before you try acupuncture and TCM, have a conversation with your doctor.

While acupuncture and other traditional Chinese medicine treatments can help relieve your stress and live well with chronic back pain caused by spinal stenosis, you may also need to incorporate other treatments to reduce your pain and stress.