Low back pain is a common occurence and one of the more frequent presentations in my acupuncture practice so I thought I’d update this post about low back pain and acupuncture. From the Western point of view, low back pain is usually classified by a number of factors:
1. Whether it is primarily a condition originating from the vertebrae, e.g. spondylitis or spondyloarthritis or nerve compression due to disc herniation or degeneration.
2. Whether it is a soft tissue problem e.g. sprain or strain of the lumbar muscles, tendons or ligaments affecting nerves.
3. Whether it is an internal medicine concern, e.g. kidney disease or referred pain from the uterus or pancreas etc.
From a Chinese Medicine viewpoint, some of the more common classifications of low back pain include
1. Invasion of damp heat or damp cold
2. Stagnation of qi and blood or
3. Deficient kidney energy, essence or other blood deficiency not nourishing the muscles, tendons and ligaments.
Mostly what I tend to see in my practice is back pain due to traumatic injury which would be classified as qi and blood stagnation according to Chinese Medicine. Pain due to qi and blood stagnation can however correlate to any of the above mentioned Western etiologies: structural defect of the spine, soft tissue problems or refered pain from internal medicine issues. Acupuncture is excellent for treating soft tissue damage very effectively. Acupuncture is also useful for helping to correct imbalances of the internal organs that may be contributing to back pain. For structural imbalances, acupuncture can help to increase circulation and reduce inflammation in the surrounding muscles allowing for easier treatments by a chiropractor or osteopath.
In general, the way that acupuncture helps to treat low back pain can be explained by its overall effect on promoting and accelerating an individual’s self healing mechanisms. Locally, acupuncture can help to reduce inflammation in traumatized muscles, promote increased blood circulation and relax muscle spasms. Improved blood circulation to the area increases oxygenation of soft tissue and helps to speed healing and reduce inflammation and therefore pain. Systemically, acupuncture helps to balance the sympathetic and parasympathetic branches of the nervous system thereby bringing further relaxation of the muscles and accelerated healing potential.
Depending on the nature and etiology of the back pain I utilize acupuncture, acupuncture with electrostimulation and/or cupping to help increase circulation to the painful area and promote healing. Acupuncture with electrostimulation has proven very effective, especially in cases of low back pain involving the sciatic nerve, with pain running down one or both legs.
Meanwhile back on the ranch, it’s very useful to keep the muscles of the back and the opposing abdominal muscles well toned and conditioned. Well conditioned musculature provides a more beneficial spinal support and because blood and oxygen are flowing more abundantly in well conditioned tissues, it’s less likely for injury to occur. If and when injury does occur, healing time is accelerated when the muscles and tendons are already in a strong and healthy condition.
Terry M. Chen, Licensed Acupuncturist
Open Sky Acupuncture, Acupuncture Eugene Oregon