Is Acupuncture Effective at Treating Lower Back Pain?

The lower back bears the brunt of some of the body’s most demanding activities. The lower back must support the weight of the head, arms, and upper back, and many daily hours of sitting can cause stiffness, tiredness, and collapse, which in turn can create wear on discs and nerve compression. Poor posture, acute injuries, straining when moving or lifting objects, being overweight, uncomfortable or ill-fitting shoes, and many more facts of daily life can cause back pain and injuries.

Lower back pain has become an epidemic across the United States, and the statistics are staggering. More people see their doctor for back pain than for any other complaint besides upper-respiratory infections. Fifty percent of all working Americans report having back pain on an annual basis, and over $50 billion dollars is spent on managing back pain each year. According to the Global Burden of Disease Study, lower back pain is the leading cause of disease across the world. As many as 85 percent of Americans will experience back pain at some point in their lives.

Acupuncture has proved to be very successful at treating some back pain, both scientifically and anecdotally. At Awaken Integrative Wellness, we provide you with a holistic solution to managing back pain that can work hand in hand with other pain-relief measures you may be taking.

The Causes of Back Pain

Sometimes it can seem as though there are almost as many causes for back pain as there are people who experience it. Any or a combination of the structures that make up the lower back can be affected, including the vertebrae (the bones that make up the spine), muscles, ligaments, nerves, and blood vessels. The lower, or lumbar, spine is particularly vulnerable, in part due to its high degree of mobility. The lower spine is made up of the lumbar and sacral vertebrae (the fluid-filled discs that act as shock absorbers between the vertebrae), the nerves that make up the spinal cord, and the muscles and ligaments that allow us to move.

Muscle strain is a common cause of lower back pain. Also known as a pulled muscle, a strain is caused when a muscle is overstretched or torn due to improper use, overuse, or fatigue. A myriad of structural problems can also cause back pain. Bulging, herniated, or ruptured discs can put pressure on nerves, sometimes causing severe pain. Compressed nerves can cause symptoms such as pain, tingling, and numbness. Still other causes include scoliosis, arthritis, osteoporosis, spinal stenosis, spinal infection, or a spinal tumor. Kidney pain can also cause lower back ache.

While back pain is often caused by a mechanical issue, there are serious medical problems that can also be indicated by back pain. Consult a doctor if you experience back pain that lasts more than two weeks or is accompanied by symptoms such as loss of elimination control; numbness, weakness, or tingling in one or both legs; onset due to trauma such as a fall or impact to the back; severe pain that worsens at night; unexplained weight loss; or fever. Always see your doctor if you are uncertain of the cause of your pain.

Is Acupuncture an Effective Treatment for Back Pain?

Multiple scientific studies (for example, Witt 2006, Haake 2007, Cherkin 2009) have shown that acupuncture provides as good or better results than standard routine treatment. Other research (for example, Lewis 2010) has shown acupuncture to be a valuable complement to conventional solutions, allowing patients to curb their use of pain killers. Acupuncture has also been studied in terms of work-related back pain and has been shown to result in fewer work days lost.

The American Pain Society and the American College of Physicians released guidelines in 2007 recommending acupuncture as a possible non-pharmaceutical option for patients with chronic low-back pain where standard self-care measures—such as heat, light stretching, and analgesics—are ineffective.

Acupuncture has also been studied and shown to be effective in treating other pain-related conditions, such as migraines, arthritis, and labor pain. Above all, acupuncture treats the patient rather than treating the disease, so the effectiveness of your course of acupuncture will depend in part on the causes behind the pain and whether acupuncture is effective at treating those issues.

There are a number of effects that are measurable by Western science that have be shown to be produced by acupuncture treatments. Acupuncture can stimulate the release of the body’s natural pain killers, called endorphins, which positively affect the way that pain is processed in the brain and spinal cord, thereby providing pain relief. Acupuncture can also reduce inflammation, improve muscle stiffness and joint mobility, decrease stress, and promote increased energy and vitality, all of which can contribute to lower levels of pain and better mobility.

How Does Acupuncture Treat Back Pain?

Before your session begins, your practitioner will read your pulses and conduct other examinations to give a clear and complete picture of your overall health and how your back pain fits into your total health. According to Traditional Chinese Medicine, pain is caused by a disruption of energy flow, or qi, so your practitioner will locate any problem areas that could be contributing to your back pain and insert needles along the relevant meridians.

Treatment protocols will depend on the cause and severity of your pain. Starting with 1 to 3 sessions per week until you feel improvement and then slowly lessening frequency to once per week is a good rule of thumb.

Awaken Integrative Wellness

The highly trained and licensed acupuncturists at Awaken Integrative Wellness have treated hundreds of patients with pain, including lower back pain. Our evaluation will give you a more complete picture of your overall health and how your pain fits into that picture. We’ll discuss your treatment options and help you to understand how a course of acupuncture can enhance the recommendations of your doctor. You will be pleased to know that Awaken Integrative Wellness accepts most health insurance providers for acupuncture treatment. We look forward to becoming your trusted healthcare provider now and into the future.