acupuncture and back pain

Acupuncture as a treatment for back pain has been widely used and shown to be effective. Back pain is the second most common disorder of mankind, only next to common cold/flu. Approximately 80 percent of the world’s population develops this symptom, and 10 percent of the UK population experience back pain in any given year. Back pain is associated with over 60 illnesses and can result in serious disability and escalating medical bills. In some cases, it can be life threatening.

Injury is the most common factor causing back pain, including acute muscle strains, ligament sprain, and spinal injury; or chronic repeated minor strains. Most episodes of acute and chronic back pain are caused by mechanical disorders associated with overuse of the back and spine, or the gradual degenerative changes associated with aging – so called non-specific back pain. In less than10 percent of back pain cases it can be caused by other illnesses such as inflammation (osteoarthritis, spondylitis), lumber disc herniation, spinal stenosis, kidney diseases (kidney infection, nephritis, kidney stones, etc.), or systemic disorders including ankylosing spondylitis, osteoporosis, tumors, and infections.

Although most back pain cases are of “non-specific” kind, for which alternative medicine including TCM can be very effective, medical attention is necessary to rule out the possibility of underlining diseases. Therefore it is strongly recommended that you see your GP first before looking for any alternatives.

TCM Perspective

There is a TCM proverb saying that “obstruction causes pain, unblocking cures pain”. takes the view that back pain can be caused by the following factors:

  • Exogenous pathogenic invasion: due to seasonal and climate change, or living or working in cold or damp environment consistently, cold and/or damp pathogen can invade our body and cause obstruction of meridians in the back.
  • Injury (sports, overuse of back, lifting heavy goods etc.) causing damage to Du and or Bladder channels in the back and their collaterals. Qi and Blood flow is partially blocked therefore become stagnated, causing pain in local area.
  • Constitutional weakness: genetic weakness, aging, long term illness, overwork or overactive sexuality can cause constitutional weakness, which makes the body more susceptible to injury and cold-damp invasion.

Generally speaking, back pain is one of the conditions that normally respond better to manipulative therapies than to internal medications. Most TCM practitioners would choose acupuncture, tuina massage or the combination of both to treat back pain. Chinese herbal medicine is less commonly used but it can be helpful for long tern benefit, especially for the elderly to improve the body weakness and prevent injury and cold-damp invasion. Other TCM therapies also commonly used in treating back pain include cupping, moxibustion, electrical acupuncture, heat lamp, herbal plasters, etc. All these therapies are rather skillful so the result of the treatment will largely depend on the practitioner’s skill and experience.

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