Several years ago, I was challenged with a series of back injuries that, while relatively minor with the perspective of time, nevertheless helped me to understand just how debilitating back pain can be. And, let’s face it: pain almost never feels minor when it is constant and nagging. Worry compounds the pain; wondering whether the pain is going to last forever, whether it is a sign of our age and an inevitable sign of decline is likely to make it appear to be more intense. Here’s the good news: we can continue to strengthen and heal, no matter our age, and no matter what the injury.
Whether you are seeking relief through alternative remedies for an injury or simply curious about acupuncture’s benefits, this article aims to shed light on types of back pain that can be addressed with acupuncture, and how acupuncture relieves back pain.
WHAT IS ACUPUNCTURE?
Y’all may already know this, but…. acupuncture is an ancient East Asian healing practice that involves the insertion of fine needles into specific points on the body. These points, also known as acupoints, are believed to be interconnected through channels called meridians, which carry vital energy or “Qi.” By stimulating these points, acupuncture aims to restore the balance of energy flow and promote the body’s natural healing processes. Almost like magic 🪄
UNDERSTANDING BACK PAIN
Of course, there can be many causes for back pain, ranging from poor posture to structural issues like arthritis or osteoporosis. Straining of the muscles or ligaments supporting the lower back can occur due to improper lifting, sudden movements, or overuse. And poor posture and weak core muscles can also contribute to the strain.
- Disc problems: Intervertebral discs, which act as cushions between the vertebrae, can herniate or bulge, causing pressure on nearby nerves and resulting in back pain. Disc degeneration and disc-related conditions like sciatica can also lead to low back pain.
- Structural abnormalities: Certain structural issues in the spine, such as scoliosis (curvature of the spine), kyphosis (excessive curvature of the upper back), or lordosis (excessive inward curvature of the lower back), can cause discomfort and pain.
- Osteoarthritis: Wear and tear of the joints in the spine can result in osteoarthritis, leading to pain and stiffness in the lower back.
- Spinal stenosis: This condition involves narrowing of the spinal canal, causing pressure on the spinal cord and nerves. It commonly affects older individuals and can cause back pain, numbness, and weakness.
- Osteoporosis: Weakening of the bones due to osteoporosis can make them more prone to fractures, including vertebral compression fractures, which can result in severe back pain.6. Infections and inflammation: Infections, such as spinal osteomyelitis or discitis, and inflammatory conditions such as ankylosing spondylitis, can cause low back pain.
7. Trauma and injury: Motor vehicle collisions, falls, or sports-related injuries can lead to fractures, sprains, or strains that cause acute or chronic back pain.
8. Medical conditions: Some conditions like kidney stones, endometriosis, or fibromyalgia, can manifest as low back pain.
9. Psychological factors: Emotional stress, anxiety, and depression can contribute to or exacerbate low back pain, making it more challenging to manage.
- It’s important to note that these are general causes, and the specific cause of a person’s low back pain may vary. A healthcare professional should be consulted for an accurate diagnosis and appropriate treatment. And importantly, an acupuncturist might see two people with the same type of low back pain (from the Western medicine perspective) and see the cause as entirely different in the two individuals!
- ACUPUNCTURE FOR BACK PAIN
- Acupuncture has gained recognition for its potential to alleviate various types of pain, including low back pain. But how the heck does it work?!? Research suggests that acupuncture can provide pain relief by:
- Promoting blood circulation: Acupuncture stimulates blood flow, improving oxygen and nutrient supply to the affected nerves, promoting their healing and reducing pain.
- Reducing inflammation: By modulating the immune response, acupuncture may help reduce inflammation in the affected nerve areas, reducing pain.
- Stimulating endorphin release: Acupuncture can trigger the release of endorphins, the body’s natural painkillers, promoting a sense of well-being and pain relief.
- Enhancing nerve regeneration: Studies indicate that acupuncture may stimulate nerve growth and renewal, aiding in the recovery of damaged nerves.
RESEARCH: FOR THE BOOKISH 🤓
There is a growing body of evidence suggesting that acupuncture can provide relief for back pain. Here are a few key studies:
- 1. A 2021 systemic review of acupuncture for pain management concluded that of the many studies that have been done examining the effects of acupuncture on low back pain, most show promising results. It cites the 2016 CDC guidelines and 2017 American College of Physicians update that now has acupuncture as a primary intervention for chronic low back pain before opioids.
2.. A randomized controlled trial published in the Archives of Internal Medicine in 2009 examined the effectiveness of acupuncture for chronic low back pain. The study found that acupuncture provided significantly better pain relief and functional improvement compared to sham acupuncture and conventional therapy.
- 3. In 2012, a systematic review published in the Journal of Pain analyzed 29 high-quality randomized controlled trials on acupuncture for chronic low back pain. The review concluded that acupuncture was more effective than no treatment, sham acupuncture, or standard care in reducing pain intensity and improving functional mobility.
ACUPUNCTURE AT LEMON TREE
If you are a Southeast Portlander, you have access to a wide range of acupuncture practitioners experienced in treating back pain. Here are a few steps to find the right acupuncturist for you:
- Seek recommendations: Ask friends, family, or healthcare professionals for advice on trusted acupuncturists in Portland
- Research local acupuncturists: Look for acupuncturists in your Portland neighborhood who specialize in pain management and have experience treating pain-related conditions.
- Check credentials: Ensure the acupuncturist is licensed and certified by relevant organizations, such as the Oregon Medical Board or the National Certification Commission for Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine (NCCAOM).
- Schedule a session: Meeting your acupuncturist and having a conversation will help you determine if acupuncture is suitable for your pain, and if the practitioner is a good fit.
Ellie Grove, LAc is in the office on Wednesdays and Thursdays, and runs a group acupuncture clinic on Wednesdays from 12:30 – 2pm in Southeast Portland. You can book with her HERE.