Acupuncture for Back Pain

Hello all! After the response to my last article, Acupuncture for Migraines, I thought I’d start a little article series on how acupuncture can help various symptoms and disorders. As the majority of the patients that walk through my door complain of musculoskeletal pain, it makes sense to write an article on the most common symptom I treat: back pain.

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What is back pain?

Photo by Jesper Aggergaard on Unsplash

You know what back pain is; so let’s talk statistics. The medical journal Annals of Rheumatic Diseases conducted a systematic review which estimated that back pain; particularly lower back pain; is the leading cause of disability in the world [1]. The treatment for lower back pain alone is estimated to cost the NHS £12 billion per year [2]. Back pain is commonly caused an injury, or by holding an incorrect posture for long periods of time. More and more people who complain of back pain also spend long hours sitting at a desk without taking a break. Pain relief medication, physiotherapy or changing your lifestyle to include less time at a desk or including purposeful activity are the most commonly prescribed treatments for back pain. Painkillers can be incredibly effective, but are not a straightforward treatment - they come with a range of side effects. Persistent use of non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, such as Ibuprofen, can cause gastrointestinal damage [3], chronic paracetamol use can lead to renal and cardiovascular damage [4], and stronger painkillers, like codeine, can become addictive. So, how do we try to reduce our painkiller intake and reduce our risk of side effects? Before I go on, I want to make it clear that acupuncture is a complementary medicine and not an alternative to western medicine. Which is why I tell almost every single one of my patients to check in with their GP as well as come to me. When I talk about reducing pain medication, I don’t mean just quit them altogether - at least not initially. Pain medication can literally transform lives, but acupuncture can reduce the amount of pain medication required to feel good; thus reducing the side effects.

How can acupuncture help?

Bladder channel points - excellent for a host of symptoms including back pain.

Bladder channel points - excellent for a host of symptoms including back pain.

In Chinese Medicine, pain is commonly caused by a deficiency or stagnation of something; usually Qi or Blood (although any of the ‘six evils’, Wind, Heat, Cold, Summer Heat, Dampness or Dryness can also be to blame - maybe we’ll leave them for another day!). One common diagnostic factor to differentiate what’s causing the pain is the characteristic of the pain. If it feels dull and achey and someone pressing on it feels pretty good, it’s a deficient pain. If it feels sharp and someone pressing on it feels pretty bad, it’s a stagnation pain. Luckily, there are treatment plans for treating both stagnation and deficiency (yay!). Local points, as seen above, can be great for instant relief, and encouraging the flow of Blood and Qi into (or out of) the painful area. Distal points around the elbows, knees, wrists and ankles are super effective for strengthening and rebalancing the body.

How can cupping help?

Redness around the cups shows Heat, which can cause pain.

Redness around the cups shows Heat, which can cause pain.

Another therapy which is excellent for back pain is cupping. Cupping may look a little scary, but is not intended to be painful! Cups should feel a little tight - this brings out Heat and stagnation of Blood, which is why people often end up with red and purple marks! Cupping releases those muscles, leaving you feeling instantly looser and more relaxed. Most people describe it as feeling like a deep tissue massage. If cups ever feel uncomfortable, please tell your acupuncturist because they can adjust them.

The research

Randomised controlled trials have found acupuncture to significantly reduce back pain, reduce dependency on pain medication and increase patient’s feeling of general wellbeing [5], [6], [7], [8] and [9]. To read more details about research into the efficacy of acupuncture for the treatment of back pain, head to the British Acupuncture Council’s fact sheet on back pain.

Photo by Mahmudul Hasan Rifat from Pexels

Photo by Mahmudul Hasan Rifat from Pexels

Book an appointment

Looking to be free from back pain?! Send me an email to book an appointment, or if you have any questions about how acupuncture can help you!

References:

[1]. Hoy, D., March, L., Brooks, P., Blyth, F., Woolf, A., Bain, C., Williams, G., Smith, E., Vos, T., Barendregt, J., Murray, C., Burstein, R. and Buchbinder, R. (2018). The global burden of low back pain: estimates from the Global Burden of Disease 2010 study. [online] Available at: https://ard.bmj.com/content/73/6/968 [Accessed 16 Sep. 2018].

[2]. NICE. (2018). NICE publishes updated advice on treating low back pain. [online] Available at: https://www.nice.org.uk/news/article/nice-publishes-updated-advice-on-treating-low-back-pain [Accessed 10 Jan. 2018].

[3]. Goldstein, J. and Cryer, B. (2015). Gastrointestinal injury associated with NSAID use: a case study and review of risk factors and preventative strategies. Drug, Healthcare and Patient Safety, p.31.

[4]. McCrae, J., Morrison, E., MacIntyre, I., Dear, J. and Webb, D. (2018). Long-term adverse effects of paracetamol - a review. British Journal of Clinical Pharmacology, 84(10), pp.2218-2230.

[5]. Hasegawa, T., Baptista, A., de Souza, M., Yoshizumi, A. and Natour, J. (2013). Acupuncture for acute non-specific low back pain: a randomised, controlled, double-blind, placebo trial. Acupuncture in Medicine, [online] 32(2), pp.109-115. Available at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/?term=10.1136%2Facupmed-2013-010333 [Accessed 7 Jan. 2018]. 

[6]. Kennedy, S., Baxter, G., Kerr, D., Bradbury, I., Park, J. and McDonough, S. (2008). Acupuncture for acute non-specific low back pain: A pilot randomised non-penetrating sham controlled trial. Complementary Therapies in Medicine, [online] 16(3), pp.139-146. Available at: http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0965229907000350?via%3Dihub [Accessed 7 Jan. 2018]. 

[7]. Cherkin, D., Sherman, K., Avins, A., Erro, J., Ichikawa, L., Barlow, W., Delaney, K., Hawkes, R., Hamilton, L., Pressman, A., Khalsa, P. and Deyo, R. (2009). A Randomized Trial Comparing Acupuncture, Simulated Acupuncture, and Usual Care for Chronic Low Back Pain. Archives of Internal Medicine, [online] 169(9), p.858. Available at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/?term=10.1001%2Farchinternmed.2009.65 [Accessed 7 Jan. 2018]. 

[8]. Cho, Y., Song, Y., Cha, Y., Shin, B., Shin, I., Park, H., Lee, H., Kim, K., Cho, J., Chung, W., Lee, J. and Song, M. (2013). Acupuncture for Chronic Low Back Pain. Spine, [online] 38(7), pp.549-557. Available at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/?term=10.1097%2FBRS.0b013e318275e601 [Accessed 7 Jan. 2018]. 

[9]. Weiß, J., Quante, S., Xue, F., Muche, R. and Reuss-Borst, M. (2013). Effectiveness and Acceptance of Acupuncture in Patients with Chronic Low Back Pain: Results of a Prospective, Randomized, Controlled Trial. The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine, [online] 19(12), pp.935-941. Available at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/?term=23738680 [Accessed 7 Jan. 2018].