Overview of Acupuncture for Back Pain

In acupuncture, a trained practitioner inserts extremely thin needles into the skin. The acupuncturist places the needles along various points of the body, and the points vary according to the location of back pain. Given the number of needles used during each session, patients bear a resemblance to pincushions, yet they do not experience pain from this form of treatment.

Two distinctly different viewpoints explain how acupuncture works to relieve back pain: the viewpoint of Western Science and the viewpoint of traditional Chinese medicine. Each gives a solid explanation for how acupuncture works.

Western Views

Stated simply, Western science explains that the needles trigger the release of the body's natural painkillers, called endorphins, and immune system cells. Western medicine believes that the needles work with the central nervous system to send the endorphins and immune system cells to the site of back pain. Each session controls back pain in two ways: Needles placed in the back block the pain to the specific area, and needles placed away from the back stimulate the brain's natural pain blockers.

Eastern Views

The traditional Chinese theory behind using acupuncture for back pain remains more complex. The simplest explanation describes health as a balance within the body as well as a balance between the body's vital energy and nature's forces. Energy channels called meridians link internal forces and act as pathways for qi. Qi is the body's energy, and an imbalance within the body blocks this flow of energy. Acupuncture needles enter the body at key points along the back's blocked meridians to restore and refresh the circulation of energy. In this manner, acupuncturists both restore balance to correct back pain and injury and maintain balance to prevent future back problems.

Acupuncture Uses

Acupuncture successfully treats lower back pain, chronic back pain, sciatica, muscle spasms, and back tension caused by pain as well as reduced movement, numbness and tingling related to back pain. It remedies three main concerns of patients.

The Pain: Back pain diminishes after each session and generally ends after 4-10 sessions, often without the aid of drugs.

The Cause: A thorough examination determines and eliminates the exact cause of back pain.

The Recurrence: Regular acupuncture sessions prevent back pain from returning, which is a common concern among back pain sufferers.

Risks and Fears

Contrary to the fear many people have, which stems from experience with injections and blood draws, acupuncture truly does not hurt. A few people feel slight discomfort during the needles' placement, and some people feel heaviness, numbness, tingling or warmth at the site of the needle. Mention any unpleasant sensations or fears to the practitioner, who can then use either smaller needles or a gentler touch. Overall, most people find themselves surprised at how relaxing and calming a session is; some people actually fall asleep during the 20-40 minutes of each session.

Some practitioners may suggest dietary changes, heat therapy, herbal medicine and massage in addition to acupuncture; however, the entire treatment package focuses on natural methods of healing backs. Discuss acupuncture with a medical professional or a licensed practitioner to determine if this method of treatment is appropriate for specific back injuries.

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