Can Acupuncture treat your Back Pain?

Man holding painful back

Ever wondered if Acupuncture can treat your back pain? or Why Acupuncture seems to work for some people and not others? Your friend said acupuncture ‘works’ but your uncle said it did nothing for him. . . Let me explain why this might be. . .

Acupuncture focuses on individualised treatment and is tailored to each patient. Your treatment results are linked to the type and cause of your condition but also the frequency and dose of acupuncture. There is also now evidence that Acupuncture can successfully treat pain.

Differential Diagnosis

Factors that influence the effectiveness of acupuncture include the cause of your back pain and how long you have experienced this. Because there are different causes of back pain it follows that effective treatment differs.  Below are a couple of examples –

Acute low back pain

The weather has been lovely. You have spent the last 2 weekends in the garden bending and lifting. You may have pulled a muscle, aggravated an old injury or repeatedly strained your back. You have tight sore muscles and you need to flex and stretch it. Painkillers don’t do anything to shift the pain. I feel your pulse and it is full and tight. There are no distinct features from your tongue diagnosis; no underlying patterns of disharmony.

I often treat back pain due to tight, sore muscles or muscles spasms, by needling distally (away from the area of pain). I then use Cupping locally (where the pain is) as this helps to move Qi and Blood stagnation.  When there is inflammation present I often use a heat lamp. A typical course of treatment might be three or four acupuncture sessions in close succession. 

Chronic low back pain 

You’ve had a low-level ache in your lower back for over 3 months. You don’t recall doing anything to have caused it. The pain is always there and nothing seems to shift it. You are tired due to broken sleep; you wake in the night feeling hot or have to go to the bathroom. I observe your pulse it is weak and doesn’t have much resilience. Your tongue shows signs of a Deficient pattern. 

This type of lower back pain is caused by an imbalance of internal energy. Cupping your back and the using the same style of needling as above will not provide long-term results. You may find the heat lamp soothing but it will not address the underlying cause of your back pain. Instead, optimal treatment consists of selecting constitutional acu-points with regular treatment over a few weeks. This is supported by lifestyle and dietary change.

Frequency of Acupuncture

How often you have acupuncture also impacts on your treatment results. I might suggest 4-8 treatments to help you. This is often once per week. When pain relief is short lived, treatment can be twice or even 3 times per week. Acupuncture once per fortnight or month will not get optimal results. If regular treatment isn’t possible then I usually refer out, as acupuncture will not be the best treatment for you. 

It is normal to consolidate treatment to achieve lasting results.  Some conditions require maintenance treatment and it is very rare that a single acupuncture treatment will resolve your condition. 

Dose of Acupuncture

Dose is an interesting concept. This equates to how strong or powerful each treatment is – similar to the way prescribed medications have different doses and strengths. Acupuncture dose incorporates how many needles are used, where they are placed and how much stimulation I give them.  Sometimes people perceive more needles mean a more effective treatment. This is not the case and here’s why. . .

Let’s take the style of needling. With muscular-skeletal needling sometimes the needles are placed locally and stimulated until there is a ‘twitch’ response or a muscle releases.  When there is local inflammation I opt for Distal needing; placing needles away from the painful area. This will help with  ‘Excess’ Qi and Blood stagnation.

In contract, when treating a ‘Deficient’ pattern, I avoid moving energy and instead focus on bolstering and tonifying substances such as Qi, Blood and Yin. Especially when energy is fragile and has little resilience.

What is the ‘Best’ treatment? 

Best or optimal treatment is when I help your body heal and return to balanced health using as little intervention as possible. I support your body by reminding it what it needs to do to heal.  Choosing acupuncture is the start of this journey. 

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