Some notes on the use of Acupuncture for Lower Back Pain
I tend to oscillate between what I understand about Chinese Medicine and what I have learned from my studies in anatomy and physiology. So it is therefore a combination of Eastern and Western disciplines.
Traditionally low back pain could be linked to Cold/Damp (Osteoarthritis), Empty Kidney energy,( see below*) or trauma
*Empty Kidney Energy The Bladder Channel runs along the lumbar spine bilaterally, and the control points for the Kidney are among these Bladder points. According to traditional thought our Kidney energy is affected by our disharmony with the way of nature. It cannot be replaced but we can ensure that it does not dissipate too quickly by faulty life-style. Traditionally the low back is related to Kidney energy. This is not the same as the kidneys in western medicine.
Does it hurt?
This is a frequently asked question. The procedure requires piercing the skin so there is a certain amount of sensation is experienced but the majority of patients report that the process is mostly painless. The reason for this is that the needles are very fine and solid unlike a hypodermic needle which is hollow and has a larger gauge, in addition to this, while inserting the needle I use a guide tube. This tube is slightly shorter than the needle, see diagram. When the acupuncture point is established the needle is inserted into the guide tube and the tube plus the needle placed on the point, As the back- end of the needle is protruding we give it a gentle tap and the needle enters the skin. The tapping sensation overcomes the possible discomfort . As students we practise initially needling orange skin!
Western Approach versus Eastern Approach
In traditional Chinese medicine pain in the lower back is caused by a blocking of the acupuncture channels or meridians leading to stagnation of the flow of energy (qi) so Needles are therefore inserted into the urinary bladder an/or the governor meridian ( these are local points in the lumbar spine) to promote the circulation of qi, blood and to relax the muscles.
When I first came across this concept I, coming from a Technical School background, thought “Yes it’s a neat idea and it would be nice if it works” It turned out to be very effective indeed,but I wondered how does it work?
Low Back pain is seen as a result of inflammation and swelling around the Lumbar spine in western medicine but does not recognize Qi or energy flow. Blood flows energy doesn’t according to a GP”s letter in the Guardian. However what is recognised by research is that the stimulation of the acupuncture points results in release of powerful agents into the bloodstream. The link below will give you more information.
How does it work ?
In general, acupuncture is believed to stimulate the nervous system and cause the release of neurochemical messenger molecules. The resulting biochemical changes influence the body’s homeostatic mechanisms, thus promoting physical and emotional well-being.
It is well-known that the acupuncture points are at a different potential difference to the surrounding tissue and act as switches so that inserting a needle in the point sends a message to the brain resulting in the release of endorphins and cortico-steroids into the system. These are painkilling anti- inflammatory substances.
Does It Matter who administers it?
I think it is advisable to consult a practitioner who has experience in both Eastern and Western approaches to medicine. A couple of years ago a patient consulted me with upper back pain with pain radiating down the arm. The acupuncturist he had been seeing was treating it as a lung problem because of the distribution of the pain .( The lung channel runs down arm) However Osteopathic diagnosis suggested Nerve Root Irritation- a musculoskeletal problem. MRI in fact showed a prolapsed disc.
Some practitioners are more gifted than others so it is a good idea to get word of mouth recommendation from a satisfied customer.
Acupuncture with Moxa ( Moxibustion)
Acupuncture with moxibustion. This Link describes pretty much how I use Moxa. Interestingly I have treated people who had previously had acupuncture elsewhere with no improvement who then improved significantly with the addition of the heat.
Electro acupuncture can give great relief in certain situations. I have used it often especially in cases of severe lower back pain, sciatica and chronic shoulder pain. It is usually a case of judging during the consultation which should be the appropriate approach, acupuncture alone, acupuncture with moxa or Electroacupuncture. Of course in some situations I would not use acupuncture at all.
Malposition of the joints be it through posture or accident needs to be dealt with. Traditionally a practitioner would apply Tui Na massage, plus herbs and Acupuncture. This is why I combine Osteopathy and Naturopathy and Acupuncture in my practice
What is Naturopathy?
Naturopathy is a branch of medicine which teaches that the nearer we are to nature the better our health and happiness will be. It also maintains that the less we interfere (chemically especially) the better our prognosis will be. Now unfortunately although it makes sense to live as simply and healthily as possible there are a bewildering number of magic cures promoted by “snake oil sellers”selling their wares. So beware. In the UK Naturopaths are registered here.
The Naturopathic approach* is also valuable in that we bear in mind that only Nature Heals. We are looking to help the body to do its magical job of healing.
If you have any comments or queries please see below.