Back pain is a very common experience. Statistics show that nearly 80% of people have low back pain at some point in their lives. Acupuncture has been proven in numerous research studies to help relieve back pain of all kinds, non-invasively and without the negative side effects associated with many other types of treatment. For links to specific studies, see the Resources list at the bottom of this post.
How acupuncture works
A number of physiological reasons have been found that explain why acupuncture works for relieving back pain. Acupuncture stimulates the central nervous system, triggering the release of chemicals into the muscles, spinal cord, and brain which alter the experience of pain. Some pain killing chemicals that have been found to be released in the brain during acupuncture are endorphins and naturally occurring opioids. Acupuncture also alters the release of neurotransmitters and neurohormones in the brain, producing bodily changes that promote a sense of well-being. In addition, there is a theory currently being researched that acupuncture speeds the relay of electromagnetic signals in the nervous system which assist in the flow of pain-killing chemicals and support the immune system. Research is ongoing. For more information, take a look at How Acupuncture Works or About Acupuncture.
Back pain in Traditional Chinese Medicine
From the perspective of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), back pain is associated with stagnation of qi, a form of energy that flows through your body in channels called meridians. This stagnation can be due to a blockage of channels from injury, or due to a deficiency of qi related to not taking care of your body properly. From the perspective of TCM, the goal of acupuncture is to support healthy qi and help it to move freely through the channels of the body. This results in relief of pain and other symptoms.
Back pain in Five Element Acupuncture
From the perspective of the Five Element system, your symptoms are your teachers. They are your body's way of trying to communicate with you about how to take care of yourself. To learn more about this, take a look at Our Philosophy or read about the Five Elements. Back pain can be associated with any of the elements, though the most common cause is an imbalance in either the Water or Wood element. Low back pain is associated most commonly with the Water element, whereas mid or upper back pain tends to be related to the Wood element. We'll discuss the Water element first.
The Water Element
One of the main functions of the Water element is that is acts as a kind of rechargeable battery for your body. When this 'battery' gets low, your body lets you know that it's time to recharge, either through eating, drinking, or resting. If you ignore these signs of 'low battery', more serious symptoms will start to arise. The telltale symptoms that show up in this case are knee and low back pain. From a Five Element perspective, one way to understand low back pain is that it is your body telling you that you've been pushing too hard. Perhaps you're not sleeping enough at night, or you drink coffee to power you through the afternoon lull in energy. Alternately, perhaps you don't drink enough water and are chronically dehydrated. All of these can be a constant drain on your battery, which can take a toll on your long term health. In this case, simple lifestyle shifts can have an enormous impact on your pain. These include making sure to give yourself enough hours in bed at night to get sufficient rest, drinking plenty of water, and taking short breaks in the middle of the day to rest and hydrate instead of pushing through with caffeine. These alone may not be enough to restore a chronically ignored battery. This is where acupuncture can be incredibly helpful, supporting your body in rejuvenating and restoring so that symptoms are relieved and you can be well in the long term.
The Wood Element
The Wood element is associated with muscle tension and stress. When out of balance, it also shows up emotionally as frustration and anger. Now, everyone has stress, but there are many different ways of dealing with it. Healthy ways include stretching, taking a walk, or deep breathing, as well as mentally being flexible in the face of things not going the way you had envisioned. Unhealthy ways range from shouting in anger to simply bottling it up, consciously or unconsciously. This frustration and anger show up in the body as muscle tension. If we don't regularly take some action to release this tension, it can compound into pain that shows up in many places in the body, including the back and neck. Acupuncture is excellent at releasing this tension, and bringing your body back to a relaxed state. In addition to this, there are a few simple lifestyle shifts that can prevent tension from becoming pain in the first place. The simplest of these is to check in with your body throughout the day. If you find that you are holding tension somewhere in your body, take a few deep breaths and consciously release it. With minor tension this is not hard to do, and it can prevent the tension from compounding into pain. Additionally, being conscious of your stress is important. If you notice you are feeling stressed, it's good to take a moment to stretch or take a walk. Actively moving your muscles will release tension from your mind as well, allowing you to think more clearly. Acupuncture allows you to be more conscious of stress as it arises in your body so that you can take simple effective actions to counter it before it turns into something more serious.
Healing from the root of the condition
The Five Element system can help you to learn what the underlying root of your pain is, as well as how to care for yourself so that your back pain is not only relieved, but also does not return. Acupuncture focuses your body's own healing systems on the issue at hand, yielding relief from pain and an increased sense of well being. Ready to give it a try? Schedule an appointment today, or contact us for more information.
Resources & Related Links