Back pain affects 80 percent of Americans at some point, according to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders. Although the pain usually eases with rest, back pain becomes a chronic condition for approximately 20 percent of the people who experience it. Prescription medications can be helpful in relieving symptoms, but drugs often cause unpleasant side effects. Long-term use of some medications can even lead to addiction, in some cases. Acupuncture relieves back pain without medication and can offer long-lasting results.
How Does Acupuncture Work?
Acupuncture relieves pain by clearing blockages of Qi, your body's life force, with small needles inserted at strategic locations that correspond to the location of your pain. When your back hurts, poking your body with needles might not seem like such a good idea, but acupuncture can offer impressive results.
Acupuncture needles aren't much thicker than one of the hairs on your head. Because the needles are so thin, you might only feel a slight pricking sensation when they're inserted. Depending on the insertion location, you may not even realize that the needles have been inserted.
Acupuncture needles aren't necessarily placed in the areas where you feel pain because the blockage responsible for the problem may actually occur far from your back. It’s a little like what happens when pipes in your home become blocked. Although water may begin to back up in your kitchen sink, the blockage may actually be located 20 feet away. In fact, low back pain is often treated by placing acupuncture needles in your hand. Your acupuncture practitioner will determine where the needles should be inserted after determining the cause of your back pain.
Once the needles are in place, they relieve back in several ways, including:
- Releasing Drug-Free Painkillers. Acupuncture treatment causes your brain to flood your body with natural brain chemicals called opioids. The chemicals play an important role in the reduction of pain.
- Improving Mobility and Range of Motion. Muscle stiffness and spasms often occur if you have back pain. Acupuncture reduces spasms and stiffness, which improves range of motion and makes walking and moving easier.
- Triggering Endorphin Release. Endorphins not only decrease pain but also help improve your mood. Acupuncture treatment stimulates the electromagnetic points responsible for triggering the release of the pain-fighting chemicals.
- Changing Neurotransmitter Secretion. Acupuncture changes the way neurohormones and neutrotransmitters are secreted by your body. The change has a beneficial effect on pain and also may boost your immune system.
- Reducing Stress. Constant pain can elevate your stress level, which may lead to muscle tension and increased pain. Acupuncture treatments lower your stress level and might even help you sleep better.
Several research studies have been performed to evaluate the effectiveness of acupuncture for back pain. In one study published in the Clinical Journal of Pain, 50 patients with low back pain received manual acupuncture, electroacupuncture or placebo treatment for eight weeks. When the participants' pain levels were assessed six months after treatment, 14 out of 34 patients who received acupuncture reported less pain, compared to just two patients out of 16 in the placebo group.
Acupuncture is not necessarily a cure-all, but it can help you manage your pain better. For example if you have a degenerative condition, such as spinal stenosis or arthritis of the spine, acupuncture treatments can't reverse the damage. However, they can lower your pain level, which will allow you to take less pain medication, and can also improve your mobility.
What other treatments can my acupuncturist offer?
Acupuncture is most effective when you take good care of your body. Your acupuncturist may recommend changes to your diet or may suggest herbal medications that can help support your treatments. Herbal medications aren't a one-size-fits-all solution. Your acupuncturist will create a custom mixture of herbs designed to treat your particular problem.
Acupuncture offers an effective way to treat back pain with absolutely no side effects. If traditional treatments haven't eased your pain, or if you're looking for a drug-free way to manage chronic back pain, you'll want to consider acupuncture treatment. When you visit us, we'll develop a treatment plan based on your unique symptoms and offer suggestions that will help speed your recovery. Call us today to schedule your appointment.
National Institute of Neurological Disorders: Low Back Pain Fact Sheet
Spine Health: Acupuncture
Harvard Health Publications: Acupuncture is Worth a Try for Chronic Pain, 4/1/13
National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health: What’s the Bottom Line?
PubMed: Acupuncture for Chronic Low Back Pain: A Randomized Placebo-Controlled Study with Long-Term Follow Up, 12/17/01