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  • Writer's pictureNicci

Can acupuncture help chronic back pain?

Updated: Jul 29, 2023

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Chronic back pain affects millions of individuals worldwide, often causing significant discomfort and limiting daily activities. As the interest in alternative approaches to pain management grows, acupuncture has emerged as a promising option for alleviating chronic back pain. In this comprehensive guide, we will explore how acupuncture can effectively address chronic back pain and provide much-needed relief.

Back pain can stem from various factors such as muscle strain, herniated discs, or poor posture. It can significantly impact an individual's quality of life, hindering mobility and productivity. While traditional treatments like medication and physical therapy are commonly prescribed, more people are turning to acupuncture to address the root causes of their back pain.

Acupuncture, rooted in ancient Chinese medicine, is based on the concept of restoring balance and flow of energy within the body. By stimulating specific points along energy pathways known as meridians, acupuncture aims to alleviate pain, promote healing, and enhance overall well-being. Understanding how acupuncture works and its benefits for chronic back pain can empower individuals to explore this holistic approach to pain management.

In the following sections, we will delve into the principles of acupuncture, its effectiveness in addressing chronic back pain, scientific research supporting its use, and what to expect during an acupuncture session. We will also explore complementary approaches to back pain relief and provide practical tips for finding a qualified acupuncturist.

Throughout the guide we reference the support that you can expect to receive from Acupuncture Surrey as we work together with you to address your chronic back pain.

What causes chronic back pain?

Chronic back pain is a prevalent condition that affects people of all ages and backgrounds. It refers to persistent or recurring pain in the back that lasts for at least 12 weeks, often beyond the normal healing time of an injury. Understanding the nature of chronic back pain and its underlying causes is crucial for exploring effective treatment options such as acupuncture.

There are several factors that can contribute to chronic back pain. Some of the common causes include:

  1. Muscle Strain: Overexertion, improper lifting techniques, or sudden movements can strain the muscles and ligaments in the back, leading to chronic pain.

  2. Herniated Discs: The discs that cushion the vertebrae can become damaged or displaced causing pressure on the spinal nerves and resulting in persistent back pain.

  3. Spinal Stenosis: This condition occurs when the spinal canal narrows, compressing the nerves and causing chronic pain, particularly in the lower back.

  4. Degenerative Disc Disease: As we age, the discs between the vertebrae can degenerate, leading to chronic pain, stiffness, and reduced flexibility.

  5. Poor Posture: Prolonged sitting, standing, or improper alignment of the spine can strain the back muscles and contribute to chronic pain.

Chronic back pain can significantly impact one's daily life, making simple tasks challenging and affecting overall well-being. It can limit mobility, interfere with work or recreational activities, and even cause emotional distress.

While conventional treatments for chronic back pain focus on managing symptoms through pain medications, physical therapy, or surgery, these approaches may not always address the underlying causes or provide long-term relief. This is where acupuncture comes into play as a holistic alternative.

By targeting the energy flow within the body, acupuncture aims to address the root imbalances contributing to chronic back pain. Through the stimulation of specific acupuncture points, it promotes the body's natural healing mechanisms and helps restore harmony and balance.

At Acupuncture Surrey, as well as addressing your chronic back pain directly, we spend time working to balance your energy system which will both put your body in a better position to heal itself by reacting positively to acupuncture and other treatments and increase your resilience generally.

How does acupuncture help to alleviate chronic back pain?

Acupuncture is an ancient practice rooted in traditional Chinese medicine that has been used for thousands of years to promote healing and restore balance within the body. At its core, acupuncture is based on the concept of Qi (pronounced "chee"), the vital life force that flows through meridians or energy pathways in the body. When Qi is disrupted or imbalanced, it can manifest as pain or illness.

Acupuncture seeks to restore the flow of Qi and rebalance the body's energy by stimulating specific points along the meridians. These points, known as acupuncture points or acupoints, are carefully selected based on the individual's symptoms and diagnosis.

When it comes to chronic back pain, acupuncture works on multiple levels to provide relief:

  1. Pain Modulation: Acupuncture stimulates the nervous system, triggering the release of endorphins, which are natural pain-relieving substances. By activating these endorphins, acupuncture helps to alleviate pain sensations associated with chronic back pain.

  2. Inflammation Reduction: Chronic back pain is often accompanied by inflammation in the affected area. Acupuncture has been shown to have anti-inflammatory effects, helping to reduce swelling and inflammation in the back.

  3. Muscle Relaxation: Tense and tight muscles can contribute to chronic back pain. Acupuncture helps to relax and release muscle tension, promoting improved blood circulation and relieving discomfort.

  4. Stress Reduction: Chronic pain can be associated with increased stress and tension in the body, which can further exacerbate pain. Acupuncture has a calming effect on the nervous system, promoting relaxation and reducing stress levels.

  5. Holistic Approach: Unlike conventional treatments that often focus solely on symptom management, acupuncture takes a holistic approach to address the underlying imbalances in the body. By restoring overall balance and harmony, acupuncture aims to not only alleviate back pain but also enhance overall well-being.

At Acupuncture Surrey, we can focus in on one or many of these aspects in any treatment. We make a decision on how best to treat you based on what you report on the day making our treatments on only personalized to each patient you but also adjusted for the ups and downs of living with chronic back pain.

It's important to note that acupuncture is typically used as part of a comprehensive treatment plan for chronic back pain. In conjunction with lifestyle modifications, exercises, and other therapies, acupuncture can play a valuable role in managing and reducing pain.

How does acupuncture work?

To understand how acupuncture effectively addresses chronic back pain, it's important to explore the underlying principles that guide the practice. The key concepts of meridians and acupuncture points play a significant role in tailoring treatments for individuals experiencing back pain.

  1. Meridians and Energy Flow: According to traditional Chinese medicine, meridians are channels through which Qi flows within the body. These meridians are interconnected and correspond to specific organs and body systems. In the context of chronic back pain, meridians associated with the back, such as the Bladder and Gallbladder meridians, are often targeted during acupuncture sessions.

  2. Acupuncture Points: Along the meridians, there are specific acupuncture points where the flow of Qi can be accessed and influenced. Each acupuncture point has unique properties and therapeutic effects. When it comes to chronic back pain, acupoints located near the affected area, as well as distal points that have a systemic impact, may be selected for treatment.

  3. Needle Stimulation: During an acupuncture session, fine, sterile needles are inserted into the chosen acupoints. The depth and angle of insertion may vary depending on the individual's condition and the acupuncturist's expertise. The needles are typically left in place for a designated period, ranging from a few minutes to up to half an hour, allowing the Qi to be stimulated and rebalanced.

  4. Deqi Sensation: The Deqi sensation is often experienced during acupuncture treatment. It refers to a unique sensation that may manifest as a dull ache, tingling, warmth, or a feeling of heaviness around the needle insertion site or along the meridian. This sensation is considered an indication that Qi is being activated and the treatment is working effectively.

  5. Moxibustion: At Acupuncture Surrey we may also use a technique called Moxibustion which involves the application of gentle heat to the needles or the area of pain to increase the efficacy of the treatment. Most patients find Moxibustion to be extremely relaxing. If this is indicated your therapist will talk you through the process during your appointment.

  6. Cupping: On occasion we may suggest cupping which involves the application of silicone vacuum cups to the skin in areas where there are stubborn muscle knots. Cupping increases the blood and qi flow to the area helping to release knots and relax the muscles. Again, if this is indicated, your Acupuncture Surrey therapist will discuss this with you during your appointment.

  7. Individualized Treatment: Acupuncture treatments for chronic back pain are highly individualized. A skilled acupuncturist will assess the individual's condition, considering various factors such as the nature of the pain, overall health, and specific symptoms. Based on this assessment, they will determine the most appropriate acupuncture points and treatment approach to address the individual's unique needs.

It's important to note that acupuncture is generally safe when performed by a trained and licensed acupuncturist. They follow strict hygiene and safety protocols, ensuring the use of sterile needles and proper disposal after each session.

What research and evidence is there to support acupuncture for chronic back pain?

The effectiveness of acupuncture in addressing chronic back pain has been the subject of numerous scientific studies and clinical trials. The growing body of research provides evidence that supports the use of acupuncture as a valuable treatment modality. Clinical Trials: Several randomized controlled trials (RCTs) have demonstrated positive outcomes for acupuncture in relieving chronic back pain. Indeed off the back of research like this, NICE, the UK’s National Institute for Health and Care Excellence now recommend acupuncture as a treatment for chronic primary pain.

  1. Mechanisms of Action: Research has shed light on the mechanisms through which acupuncture exerts its effects. Studies have shown that acupuncture stimulates the release of endorphins, natural pain-relieving substances, and modulates neurotransmitters involved in pain perception, such as serotonin and norepinephrine.

  2. Long-Term Relief: Acupuncture has shown promise in providing long-term relief for chronic back pain.

  3. Combination Therapies: Acupuncture has been found to be effective as part of a comprehensive treatment approach. Combining acupuncture with other modalities such as physical therapy, exercise, or herbal medicine has shown enhanced outcomes in managing chronic back pain.

It's important to note that while the evidence supports the use of acupuncture for chronic back pain, individual responses may vary. Each person's experience with acupuncture is unique, and the treatment may be more effective for some individuals than others.

Consulting with a qualified acupuncturist can help determine the suitability and potential benefits of acupuncture for your specific condition.

By considering the research and evidence, individuals with chronic back pain can make informed decisions about incorporating acupuncture into their pain management strategies.

What should I expect in an acupuncture appointment for chronic back pain?

If you're considering acupuncture as a treatment option for chronic back pain, it's natural to have questions about what to expect during a session. Familiarizing yourself with the process can help alleviate any concerns and ensure a comfortable and beneficial experience. Here's what you can typically expect during an acupuncture session:

  1. Initial Consultation: The first step is an initial consultation with an acupuncturist. During this consultation, the acupuncturist will discuss your medical history, including details about your chronic back pain, any previous treatments you've undergone, and your overall health. At Acupuncture Surrey we will also examine the area of pain, take your pulses and look at your tongue (traditional Chinese medicine diagnostic techniques). This information helps the acupuncturist tailor the treatment plan specifically to your needs.

  2. Treatment Plan: Based on the information gathered during the consultation, the acupuncturist will develop a treatment plan that outlines the frequency and duration of the acupuncture sessions. They may also discuss any complementary therapies or lifestyle modifications that can enhance the effectiveness of the treatment.

  3. Preparation: When you arrive for your acupuncture session, the acupuncturist will typically ask you to lie down on a treatment table. They may provide a gown or ask you to expose the area of your back that requires treatment. Towels will be provided to cover you.

  4. Needle Insertion: The acupuncturist will use sterile, disposable needles to insert them into specific acupuncture points on your body. These needles are extremely thin, and most people report minimal to no pain during insertion. The number of needles used will depend on your individual treatment plan.

  5. Needle Sensations: Once the needles are inserted, you may experience various sensations around the needle insertion sites. These sensations can include tingling, warmth, or a mild ache. These sensations are normal and indicate that the acupuncture is working to stimulate the flow of Qi.

  6. Relaxation and Rest: After inserting the needles, the acupuncturist will allow you to rest for a designated period. This period can range from 15 to 30 minutes or longer. Many people find this time deeply relaxing and use it as an opportunity to rest and rejuvenate.

  7. Needle Removal: Once the designated time has passed, the acupuncturist will gently remove the needles. The removal process is typically painless.

  8. Post-Treatment: After the acupuncture session, the acupuncturist may provide additional recommendations for self-care, such as specific stretches or lifestyle modifications that can support your recovery and ongoing pain management.

It's important to communicate openly with your acupuncturist during the session. If you experience any discomfort or have questions, don't hesitate to let them know. Your comfort and well-being are their priority.

What other practices could help with your back pain alongside acupuncture?

While acupuncture can be an effective standalone treatment for chronic back pain, incorporating complementary approaches can enhance its benefits and provide comprehensive relief. Here are some strategies and practices that can work synergistically with acupuncture to support your journey towards back pain relief:

  1. Exercise and Stretching: Engaging in regular exercise and targeted stretching can help improve flexibility, strengthen supporting muscles, and enhance overall spinal health. Low-impact exercises like yoga, Pilates, or tai chi can be particularly beneficial for back pain. Consult with your healthcare provider or a qualified physical therapist to develop a customized exercise program suitable for your condition.

  2. Posture Correction: Maintaining good posture plays a crucial role in back pain management. Practice mindful awareness of your posture throughout the day, especially during activities that may strain your back. Use ergonomic chairs and supportive cushions when sitting for extended periods. Incorporate exercises that promote proper alignment and posture into your routine.

  3. Heat Therapy: Applying heat to the affected area can help alleviate pain and reduce inflammation. Experiment with heat packs, hot water bottles, or warm baths to relax tense muscles. Listen to your body and find the temperature that provides the most relief for you.

  4. Stress Management: Chronic pain can be exacerbated by stress and tension. Explore stress management techniques such as deep breathing exercises, meditation, mindfulness practices, or engaging in hobbies that promote relaxation. Stress reduction can positively impact pain perception and contribute to overall well-being.

  5. Sleep and Rest: Quality sleep and adequate rest are vital for the body's healing processes. Create a sleep-friendly environment that promotes relaxation and supports a restful night's sleep. Develop a bedtime routine that helps you unwind and prioritize getting enough sleep to optimize your body's ability to heal.

  6. Nutrition and Hydration: Maintaining a healthy diet and staying hydrated can support overall well-being and potentially reduce inflammation. Focus on a balanced diet rich in fruits, vegetables, lean proteins, and whole grains. Stay hydrated by drinking an adequate amount of water throughout the day.

  7. Mind-Body Therapies: Consider incorporating mind-body therapies such as meditation, guided imagery, or biofeedback into your routine. These practices can help you cultivate a sense of calm, reduce stress, and enhance your body's natural healing response.

Remember, these complementary approaches should be integrated alongside your acupuncture treatment plan and tailored to your individual needs. Discuss any new practices with your healthcare provider or acupuncturist to ensure they align with your overall treatment strategy.

How to find a qualified acupuncturist for chronic back pain relief

Finding a qualified acupuncturist who specializes in treating chronic back pain is essential to ensure safe and effective care. Here are some important tips to consider when selecting an acupuncturist:

  1. Check Credentials and Licenses: Ensure that the acupuncturist is properly trained and licensed. Inquire about their educational background, certifications, and any specialized training related to acupuncture for back pain.

  2. Seek Recommendations: Ask for recommendations from trusted sources, such as your primary healthcare provider, friends, or family members who have had positive experiences with acupuncture for back pain. Online reviews and testimonials can also provide valuable insights.

  3. Consultation and Communication: Schedule an initial consultation with potential acupuncturists to discuss your condition, treatment options, and their approach to back pain relief. Evaluate their ability to listen, answer your questions, and provide clear explanations. At Acupuncture Surrey we offer a free, no obligation, 15 minute exploratory call or meeting to have this kind of discussion.

  4. Clean and Safe Environment: Ensure that the acupuncture clinic follows proper hygiene and safety protocols. The clinic should be clean, and single-use, sterile needles should be used for each patient. Feel free to ask about their sanitation practices.

  5. Pricing: Discuss the pricing structure and any available payment plans.

  6. Personal Connection: Trust your intuition and choose an acupuncturist with whom you feel comfortable and have a good rapport. A strong patient-practitioner relationship can contribute to a positive treatment experience.

Remember that acupuncture is a personalized therapy, and each acupuncturist may have their unique style and approach. Finding the right fit is crucial for effective and satisfactory results.

Conclusion: Embracing Acupuncture for Chronic Back Pain Relief

In this comprehensive guide, we have explored how acupuncture can alleviate chronic back pain and provide a holistic approach to pain management.

Acupuncture, with its foundation in traditional Chinese medicine, aims to restore balance and harmony within the body, promoting healing and overall well-being.

We began by understanding the nature of chronic back pain and its impact on individuals' lives. Chronic back pain can stem from various causes, such as muscle strain, herniated discs, or poor posture. While conventional treatments often focus on symptom management, acupuncture targets the underlying imbalances to address the root causes of pain.

Delving into the principles of acupuncture, we discovered how it works by stimulating specific points along meridians to promote pain modulation, inflammation reduction, and muscle relaxation. The evidence from clinical trials and research supported the effectiveness of acupuncture in providing long-term relief for chronic back pain.

Understanding what to expect during an acupuncture session, including the initial consultation, needle insertion, and post-treatment care, helps individuals feel prepared and comfortable with the process. We also explored complementary approaches such as exercise, posture correction, heat and cold therapy, stress management, sleep and rest, nutrition, and mind-body therapies, which can enhance the benefits of acupuncture.

When seeking acupuncture for chronic back pain relief, it's essential to find a qualified acupuncturist. Considering their credentials, experience, recommendations, communication style, and safety practices can help you make an informed decision.

As we conclude this guide, we encourage you to consider acupuncture as a viable option for managing chronic back pain. Embrace the holistic approach that acupuncture offers, focusing on restoring balance, promoting healing, and enhancing your overall well-being.

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