Acupuncture for back pain is one of the most highly demanded therapies at Joanne Vidich Chinese Medicine in Williamstown. We see a great number of chronic back pain cases as part of the clinic’s management of women’s health issues. Our female clients often require back pain acupuncture during pregnancy, after birth and when feeling stressed.
Other types of back pain cases commonly seen in our clinic and treated using acupuncture are those brought on by incorrect posture, bad lifting and repetitive strain injuries (RSI). These types of back pain can be either acute or chronic, and mainly involve the sprain and strain of muscles, tendons and ligaments.
Signs and symptoms of back pain
The areas affected by back pain are sometimes not localised. Apart from the back, pain in muscles and bones can also be felt at the hips and along the legs.
The signs and symptoms of back pain may include:
- Muscle ache
- Shooting or stabbing pain
- Pain that radiates down the legs
- Limited flexibility or range of motion of the back
- Numbness or pins and needles in the leg
The causes of back pain
Back pain can develop spontaneously without an apparent reason. Some people wake up with a back pain and are unable to pinpoint a specific incident that could have triggered the pain. Very often tests and imaging done at the doctor’s will fail to identify the specific cause of this type of back pain.
The application of acupuncture therapies for back pain are not guided by whether or not there is a known cause attributed to the pain. Pain, in Chinese medicine, is a symptom arising from blockages of Qi (vital energy) and Blood (essential substances that nourishes the body tissues) along the meridian pathways. The location of pain helps us identify the diseased meridian that needs to balanced.
Common causes of back pain
In most cases, back pains are caused by sprain, minor strains and a pinched or irritated nerve. These types of back pain are triggered by everyday activities, for example bending awkwardly, lifting badly, twisting or overstretching. Bad posture or overuse of back muscles due to repetitive movements can cause back pain to develop over a period of time.
Causes of back pain in females
Female clients are affected by different back pain risk factors during various stages of their life cycle.
Back pain during pregnancy:
Pregnancy back pain typically affect the sacroiliac joint, where the pelvis meets the spine. During pregnancy, the spine has to support the weight of the growing baby. The extra pressure placed on the spine, blood vessels and nerve in the pelvis area causes lower back pain.
Some of our female clients complain about back pain affecting both the middle and lower back. The cause is attributed to instability of the spine, as a result of the functioning of a pregnancy hormone called relaxin. This hormone is crucial for the preparation of birth, as it loosens the ligaments and joints in the pelvic area. The same hormone can also cause the ligaments supporting the spine to be loosened, causing instability and pain.
Back pain after birth:
Immediately after birth, the weakened abdominal muscles are still in recovery stage, causing the already unstable spine to be poorly supported. Female clients who breastfeed their babies tend to adjust their postures in a certain way, and inadvertently placed additional strain on their spine and back muscles.
Lower back pain during and after sex:
This type of back pain is generally considered as caused by bad positioning.
Back pain caused by skeletal irregularity and medical condition
Back pain can develop due to problems with the spine, in terms of degeneration, inflammation, compression fracture and abnormal curvature. Compression of nerve root are seen in cases of narrowing of spinal canal due to arthritis (spinal stenosis), when a disk between vertebrae is ruptured (sciatica), or when vertebrae are fractured as a result of osteoporosis.
Serious medical conditions that are linked to back pain include kidney stone, kidney infection and cancer.
Acupuncture for back pain
Acupuncture is a well-recognised Chinese medicine treatment modality for the relief of back pain. At Joanne Vidich Chinese Medicine, we achieve satisfactory results through using acupuncture in combination with ancillary techniques such as cupping and moxibustion. Acupuncture for back pain involves the mobilising of Qi and Blood from a corresponding healthy meridian. The arrival of meridian Qi helps to unblock the stagnant spot in the diseased meridian relieving pain. The Blood will then irrigate the injured muscles and tissues and repair damages. In cases where the clients are showing signs of being depleted by chronic pain, Chinese herbal formulas are prescribed to boost recovery, at the same time extending the pain relief effect between sessions of acupuncture treatment.
Our protocol for back pain acupuncture
The identification of the problem meridian guides our use of acupoints in back pain acupuncture. Our clients are asked to point to a pain spot or pain area and describe the type of pain, whether it is sharp, dull achy, burning or tingling etc. Based on the clients’ input, we will then do a diagnostic palpation along the pathways of the problem meridian and the corresponding balancing meridians. In chronic back pain cases, we will often find nodules within the muscles or changes in skin colour and texture. These findings tell us which type of stagnation is at the root of the back pain, and should be treated accordingly. We also want to locate tender points along the corresponding meridians which are used to treat the back pain. These points are not active pain spots but often elicit an ‘ouch’ sound from the clients when pressure is applied. The tender points are important treatment points which will be needled along with regular meridian points.
At this stage, the clients are ready to begin receiving acupuncture treatments. If the back pain also involves a restriction in range of movement, we will first insert a single needle somewhere on the limbs, and ask the client to rotate or bend the back and waist area while the needle is being manipulated. This technique guides the meridian Qi to the diseased body part. Subsequently needles are inserted in all other acupoints, and the clients are asked to rest and relax for at least 30 minutes while the points are working.
How soon after back pain acupuncture treatments will I see a result?
Acupuncture will relieve pain by releasing endorphin, the body’s natural pain-killing chemicals. Acupuncture will also affect the part of the brain that secretes serotonin, a brain chemical involved with mood. In the treatment of chronic pain, acupuncture produce immediate analgesic effect within 15 to 30 minutes, with the analgesic duration lasting approximately 3 days.
In our clinic, we follow a treatment plan which is individually formulated for each client. Acupuncture therapy is a form of medicine. As with any other medicine, acupuncture needs to be taken at an appropriate dose over a sufficient duration for it to achieve its full effect. Another factor to consider is the client’s responsiveness to acupuncture treatments.
Generally, acute sprains and strains can be fully resolved within 3 to 4 acupuncture treatments. In chronic back pain cases, the benefit of having acupuncture extends far beyond the analgesic effect of the medicine. Given time, acupuncture can actually produce sustainable effect in changing the body’s physiology. Clients on a Maintenance Treatment Program often report that they are no longer susceptible to injuries, as their muscles and tendons heal and becoming more flexible, and their bone structure are becoming strengthened.
Which type of back pain benefits from acupuncture treatment?
From our experience, back pains caused by muscular strain and ligament strain are uncomplicated in pathology, and responds readily to acupuncture treatments. Clients usually achieve long term relief to their painful condition.
At our clinic, female clients either suffer back pain as a stand-alone muscular-skeletal condition, or as a co-existing condition with other gynaecology issues. Both groups of clients report good levels of pain relief after receiving courses of acupuncture treatment. The effectiveness of acupuncture in treating female back pain comes from the unique way Chinese medicine understands female physiology and the time-tested gynaecology therapies being used to regulate female pathology.
Back pains that are linked to skeletal or medical conditions need a longer treatment course, and may require the use of Chinese herbal medicine, in addition to regular acupuncture sessions. Certain underlying conditions such as bone deformation cannot be treated by Chinese medicine alone. We find that the cumulative anti-inflammatory and analgesic effect of acupuncture can bring our clients suffering from complex back pain conditions to a stage where they no longer require the use of Western pain relief medication and NSAIDs. A long term Chinese medicine treatment plan customised to the client’s unique condition is needed in the management of a complex back pain case. Very often, Chinese herbal medicine is prescribed to treat the internal imbalances.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) about back pain acupuncture
Q: Can I have acupuncture for back pain during pregnancy?
Acupuncture is safe during pregnancy for the treatment of back pain. Different points are chosen for needling depending on the stages of pregnancy, taking into consideration the history of the client, and their current accompanying signs and symptoms. All the treatments are formulated with raising the Qi as a pre-requisite to secure the pregnancy.
Q: Can you get back pain from stress?
Stress is a risk factor in the development of back pain. Chinese medicine organ theory says that the Liver organ is affected by excess stress and unregulated emotions. The Liver organ is also in charge of the smooth flow of Qi and Blood within the meridian network. When a person is subject to chronic stress, the flow of Qi and Blood becomes stagnated. This is the beginning of various internal pathologies, depending on which meridian pathway and corresponding organs are affected.
The external manifestation of the Liver organ being overwhelmed by stress is tight muscle and inflexible tendons. This can occur anywhere in the body, particularly along the Gallbladder meridian pathway, affecting the neck, shoulder, back and hips area. As the etiological factor of lower back pain, the Five Element Theory explains that an excess pathology in the Liver causes the organ to over-drain its mother organ, the Kidney. The Kidney governs the health and strength of the lower back, when it’s energy is deficient the back and spine become weak and achy. Back pain caused by stress is always accompanied by weakness, tight muscles and inflexible movements.
Q: Why do I get lower back pain after sex?
We have treated quite a number of clients complaining of lower back pain either during or after sex, or both. Some of them do have an existing back pain problem, with the pain being aggravated by sexual activity. In this case, acupuncture therapies for back pain in combination with points which improve the flow of Qi and Blood within the pelvic region brings good treatment result.
We have also seen complicated cases where female clients get lower back pain that is only associated with sexual activity. Experience tells us that there is an emotional component in the development of pain, and that the Liver energy could be impacted. The lower back and sacrum are chakras which deal with relationship issues. For these clients, a herbal formula based on Xiao Yao San (Happy Wandering Power) will be prescribed to deal with the internal disharmony. This formula soothes the Liver and regulates the emotions, effectively ‘soften’ the mood of the person taking it. In addition, we perform Esoteric Acupuncture on the clients, in order to balance the energies centres, in particular coursing the stagnant energy in the lower chakras.
- The Immediate Analgesic Effect of Acupuncture for Pain: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis (pdf, 14 pages, 1.54MB)