Back pain can affect anyone at any age. Indeed, most people will experience it at some point in their lives with 1 in 6 Australians being affected by it each year. (1).Most commonly it is related to the way the vertebrae, discs, tendons, muscles and ligaments within the entire region of the back function together (2).
What are the symptoms of back pain?
Clinically people present with differing symptoms and causes of their back pain. For some, it can be as subtle as a persistent dull ache. For others however, it can be extremely intense, manifesting as a sharp, stabbing sensation. Some back pain comes on suddenly and is a direct a result of a sprain or other trauma. Whilst other back pain can be insidious and progress slowly. Usually this type of back pain is related to the degenerative changes that can occur in the spinal column as we age.
Acute vs Chronic Back Pain
For many people back pain is an acute condition, lasting anywhere from a couple of days to a few weeks. Often it resolves itself or responds well to treatment. By contrast, chronic back pain by definition, usually persists for 12 weeks or longer or unfortunately for some sufferers, indefinitely (2). Indeed, there are many people who deal with chronic back pain on a daily basis. Not only can the pain be extremely debilitating it can also be very incapacitating. Although there are treatment options available to these patients in the form of medications or surgery these are not effective in all cases. Hence for some sufferers, in the pursuit of finding some relief for their condition, alternative forms of treatment such as acupuncture are often sought out.
Acupuncture for Back Pain: A Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) Approach
From a TCM point of view there are various disease patterns associated with back pain. Usually it is classified as being acute or chronic and perceived as being related to impaired qi and blood circulation in the region of the back due to either:
- Overwork, over exertion
- An ageing or weak constitution
- External pathogenic factors (wind, cold, heat, dampness)
During the initial consultation many questions will be asked in order to determine a diagnosis of your condition according to TCM. Indeed, it is important that we gather as much information regarding all aspects of the pain including it’s location, intensity, what aggravates/relieves it and so on. Details of any other treatments or testing (including scans, x-rays or MRI results) are also valuable at this stage. Also at this point we would normally do a physical examination and palpate the area to confirm our diagnosis and formulate a treatment plan . Treatment plans vary in length and are tailored to individual needs with chronic conditions requiring more scheduled sessions than acute conditions. For long term results, movement and strengthening of the local area are recommended to support the treatment and prevent symptoms from returning. In fact once able, we recommend patients incorporate exercise and strengthening modalities (eg pilates, yoga and tai chi) into their lifestyles.
Current research : Acupuncture for Lower Back Pain
Current research indicates that acupuncture can be an effective treatment for lower back pain. Specifically it validates its abilities to provide pain relief and improve function. For example, Liu l et al determined that acupuncture alone, or in combination with conventional care, led to an improvement in pain and function for chronic low back pain in the short term. They recommended that it should be routinely promoted in clinical practice (3). Furthermore two other studies purported acupuncture as being a cost effective option for the treatment of lower back pain including chronic lower back pain (4,5).
3 Liu L, Skinner M, McDonough S, Mabire L, Baxter GD. Acupuncture for low back pain: an overview of systematic reviews. Evid Based Complement Alternat Med. 2015;2015:328196.
4. Andronis L, Kinghorn P, Qiao S, Whitehurst DG, Durrell S, McLeod H. Cost-Effectiveness of Non-Invasive and Non-Pharmacological Interventions for Low Back Pain: a Systematic Literature Review. Appl Health Econ Health Policy. 2016 Aug 22.
5. Taylor P, Pezzullo L, Grant SJ, Bensoussan A. Cost-effectiveness of Acupuncture for Chronic Nonspecific Low Back Pain. Pain Pract. 2014 Sep;14(7):599-606.