Acupuncture and Back Pain
What is back pain?
Back pain is one of the most common reasons people seek medical attention.
It is one of the most frequent causes of missed workdays and one of the
most expensive conditions in the United States; according to a recent
government report, in 1999, nearly one million people in the U.S. took
time away from work to treat and recover from some sort of back pain.
Back problems can be caused by an inordinately wide range of problems.
It can exist alone, or it can be caused by a condition that occurs elsewhere
in the body, with the pain being transmitted (referred) to areas of the
back by the nervous system. The majority of backache sufferers complain
of pain in the lower back; the second most common site of discomfort is
the base of the neck.
Who suffers from back pain?
Half of all adults will experience some form of low back pain during
their lifetime. The fact that humans walk upright puts great pressure
on the spine and the muscles that support it. Over time, factors such
as disease, accidents, poor posture and overexertion can lead to immediate
and/or long-term back problems.
Most back pain is muscular in nature. Muscle pain perpetuates what is
known as the pain cycle, a phenomenon of which the back is particularly
susceptible. In the pain cycle, pain causes a muscle to spasm, which may
distort the discs, joints and nerves of the spine. This spasm leads to
further pain, leading to further spasm, which compounds the original problem.
If the nerves are irritated enough, it may cause pain to radiate down
into the leg, similar to pain experienced via a herniated disc.
In most cases, people who experience an episode of acute back pain will
recover in 3-12 weeks. For those who don't recover, however, chronic back
pain can be a significant source of inconvenience and suffering.
What can acupuncture do?
Acupuncture can play an important role in the reduction or elimination
of back pain by reducing recovery time and preventing a chronic condition
Research has shown that acupuncture causes the body to produce natural
steroids and promote the production of natural endorphins. Steroids decrease
inflammation, while endorphins are produced by the body to kill pain.
Both substances can play an integral part in the breaking up of the pain
By reducing acute back pain, acupuncture may also reduce the chances
of chronic back pain from occurring. It can help avoid the need for costlier
and more invasive surgical procedures. And if back pain can be significantly
reduced with acupuncture, it also lowers the need for painkillers or other
medications that can either cause unwanted side-effects or prolong a patient's
Many styles of acupuncture may help ease back pain. Some practitioners
may advocate very few needles at particular acupoints on the hand; other
practitioners may employ electroacupuncture at several points on the body
simultaneously. In general, the longer the pain has been present, the
longer it will take for acupuncture to produce a response.
As with any other form of care, however, remember that not all patients
will respond to acupuncture. Make sure to discuss the situation thoroughly
with your acupuncturist before undergoing treatment for back pain (or
any other condition).
- Coan RM, et al. The acupuncture treatment of neck pain: a randomized
controlled study. Amer J Chin Med 1980;8:181-189.
- Ernst E, White AR. Acupuncture for back pain: A meta-analysis of randomised
controlled trials. Arch Intern Med 1998;158:2235-2241.
- Lee A. Back pain and the role of acupuncture in management. Available
online at www.barefootdoctors.com/backpain.html.
- Patel M, Gutzwiller F, Paccaud F, Marazzi A. A meta-analysis of acupuncture
for chronic pain. Inter J Epidem 1989;18:900-906.
- Thomas M, Lundberg T. Importance of modes of acupuncture in the treatment
of chronic nociceptive low back pain. Acta Anaesthesiol Scand
- Yi-Kai L, et al. Silver needle therapy for intractable low-back pain
at tender point after removal of nucleus pulposus. JMPT June
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