“Is acupuncture effective to help reduce back pain, and is it safe?” is a question some people with back pain ask me. Acupuncture is indeed an effective and safe way to help relieve your back pain—when the treatment is administered by a trained and licensed acupuncturist. It is worth talking to your doctor about trying it for your particular back pain-related symptoms.
Lumbar muscle strains and sprains are the most common causes of low back pain. Many “weekend warriors” experience injuries and pain from trying to tackle large home projects, such as painting the exterior of their home or doing their own landscaping.
The low back is susceptible to strain because of its weight-bearing function and connection in movements, such as twisting and bending. Muscle strain is caused when muscle fibers are over-stretched or torn. Inflammation is common at the site of injury, usually accompanied by pain with movement. Muscle cramping or spasms can occur, as well as decreased function and/or range of motion.
Acupuncture should not be a “last resort” treatment option.
Acupuncture has been an integral part of Chinese Medicine for over 4,000 years, although the benefits were slowly discovered in the Western world. Today, as people are becoming more aware of alternative treatments—and seeking pain relief options that do not include medication—acupuncture seems to have jumped to the top of many people’s radar. Still, I find it interesting when people who have suffered from a certain condition long term consider acupuncture a “last resort” option.
While over-the-counter or prescription pain medications may offer some relief, the relief is temporary and does not treat the underlying issue(s) or cause of the pain. Medication may mask the pain to the point that a person continues to do a certain activity that may worsen their physical situation.
Acupuncture, how it works and its effectiveness in treating back pain and other causes of body pain have been studied rather extensively by researchers in China, the United States and other countries. Acupuncture unblocks and moves the body’s energy (called Qi [chee]) through the body’s functional systems—such as, the nervous, respiratory, circulatory, muscular, and digestive systems.
According to the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health (NCCIH), “results from a number of studies suggest that acupuncture may help ease chronic low-back pain, neck pain, and osteoarthritis/knee pain. It also may help reduce the frequency of tension headaches and prevent migraine headaches.”1
A group of researchers in China recently published their results from a study of 751 patients with low back pain. The study was carefully performed measuring each patient’s pain level and functional ability before and after acupuncture treatment. The researchers concluded that acupuncture may have “a favorable effect on self-report pain and functional limitations in LBP [low back pain] patients.”2
How Acupuncture Works
The modern scientific explanation is needling the acupuncture points stimulates the nervous system to release chemicals in the muscles, spinal cord, and brain, including endorphins, encephalin (a type of endorphin) and other neurochemicals. These natural chemicals may either change the pain experience or trigger the release of other chemicals and hormones that influence the body's own internal regulating system. This can bring about a normalizing effect on neuroendocrine (nerve and hormone) function. The improved energy and biochemical balance produced by acupuncture results in stimulating the body's natural healing abilities, and in promoting physical and emotional well-being.3
Pain relief is a common reason why patients seek acupuncture therapy.
Most patients in my practice come to see me for pain relief. Neck and back pain are the most common conditions. Since acupuncture is usually sought out last after more conventional medicine has not achieved the desired result, many of my patients are surprised at how effective it this centuries old method can be. It’s a very rewarding experience to see my patients able to either be pain-free or living with less pain!
For anyone who may be thinking of acupuncture as a modality of treatment, I say, “make it your choice, not your last resort.”