Wunian Chen, MD, LAc, December 15, 2015
If you thought you were alone in suffering from lower-back pain, think again. The World Health Organization states that this type of pain is the leading cause of disability in young adults, and the 2010 Global Burden of Disease Study placed lower-back pain in the top 10 global causes of absenteeism from work.
In other words, there are millions of people suffering from lower-back pain, just like you. It’s no surprise, therefore, that treatments like acupuncture for back pain are in higher demand now than ever. The question is, what is behind this epidemic, and what can be done to remedy the situation?
Causes of Back Pain
Let’s start with some of the more common conditions that can cause chronic lower-back pain:
- Lumbar strain (acute, chronic), stretching injury to the ligaments, tendons, and/or muscles of the low back. The stretching incident results in microscopic tears of varying degrees in these tissues.
- Nerve irritation: mechanical pressure (impingement) by bone or other tissues, or from disease, anywhere along their paths — from their roots at the spinal cord to the skin surface.
- Lumbar radiculopathy is nerve irritation caused by damage to the discs between the vertebrae. Damage to the disc occurs because of degeneration (“wear and tear”) of the outer ring of the disc, traumatic injury, or both.
- Bony encroachment: Any condition that results in movement or growth of the vertebrae of the lumbar spine can limit the space (encroachment) for the adjacent spinal cord and nerves.
- Bone and joint conditions leading to lower back pain include those existing from birth (congenital), those resulting from wear and tear (degenerative) or injury, and those due to inflammation of the joints (arthritis).
- Degenerative bone and joint conditions: As we age, the water and protein content of the body’s cartilage changes. This change results in weaker, thinner, and more fragile cartilage.
- Injury to the muscles, bones and joints.
- Arthritis of the lower back and sacroiliac joints.
- Tumors of the kidneys or ovaries can also cause lower back pain.
Acupuncture for Back Pain and Other Treatments
When you have back pain or have been diagnosed with a spinal cord injury, you are likely looking for solutions to the problem. The course of treatment, which will be determined by the cause of the pain, may include one or more of the following:
- Medications, including pain relievers, anti-inflammatory drugs, topical treatments and treatments for infections, whether primary or secondary.
- Complementary or alternative treatments, such as acupuncture for back pain, which has been proven to provide relief for conditions like spinal stenosis.
- Physiotherapy and massage for muscle strains and pains, if your back pain is related to overworked muscles rather than the spine itself.
- Spinal surgery, including laser spine surgery, although this is often reserved for advanced and serious cases.
- Treatments for underlying conditions, such as arthritis or osteoporosis, which cause bone spurs or degeneration of the spine.
- Lifestyle changes, including an improved diet, moderate exercise and changes to work habits.
Acupuncture is performed by licensed acupuncturists who put the needles in your body. Among other therapies, acupuncture is considered to have minimum side effects. It can reduce pain and inflammation like steroids or ibuprofen do and have long-lasting results, without any side effects.
What Should You Expect from an Acupuncture Session?
Acupuncture sessions last for one hour. We will ask about your medical history, exam the source of your pain, check your pulse and look at your tongue to find out the cause of your lower back pain. Then we will determine the points on your body to insert the needles. Patients can usually feel the needle, but not necessarily feel pain from needles. After we put the needles in, you will relax for 15 to 30 mins while the needles do their work. You will typically need between 1 and 10 sessions, depending on the severity of your lower back pain. If your insurance covers acupuncture, you will be able to file your claim yourself.
If you have been diagnosed with any of the conditions causing lower back pain or a medical condition like spinal stenosis, the good news is that you’re better off than many people who suffer from chronic lower back pain. You can work with your doctors and alternative medicine professionals to formulate a plan that tackles the root cause of the problem.
Don’t suffer in silence, and don’t wait to treat degenerative conditions. Lower back pain usually gets worse with age, not better.