5 Ways that acupuncture can help with back pain


As a leading cause of disability, back pain is one of the most commonly treated musculoskeletal problems that I encounter in practice.  Back problems that are most receptive to acupuncture treatment are those caused by sprains, muscle strains, minor injuries, or muscular spasm irritating or pinching a nerve.  Although painkillers are a useful short-term solution to relieve discomfort, as a longer-term option they can often mask the problem rather than addressing the underlying cause of the back pain, which is where acupuncture can help.  Dr Nagda, an American pain consultant says that “when you look at risks and benefits compared to other methods like NSAIDs such as Ibuprofen, acupuncture comes out on top with minimal risks.”  Its benefits also become clearer when you consider that it is increasingly being covered, in part, by health insurance.

There is a wide body of research showing that acupuncture can provoke a number of physiological changes, which relieve pain, improve mobility and reduce inflammation -https://www.acupuncture.org.uk/a-to-z-of-conditions/a-to-z-of-conditions/back-pain.html. A study recently published in the Australian medical journal, conducted in the emergency department of a hospital, has shown acupuncture to be as effective as, and safer than, medication for relieving acute back pain. http://theconversation.com/emergency-doctors-are-using-acupuncture-to-treat-pain-now-heres-the-evidence-79430.  As such it is being increasingly embraced as a popular choice of treatment for acute back pain.  

Although effective for both acute and chronic pain, more often than not people tend to come into clinic when the pain has become more chronic.  Unsurprisingly, people are more inclined to seek treatment after their pain has eased, and mobility improved, with the help of painkillers, preferring to rest and avoid unnecessary movement.  In extreme cases, people are simple unable to move, much less find their way to the nearest Acupuncture Clinic!  However, this is a time when acupuncture can work its wonders! It's often patients who are able to receive treatment sooner rather than later, particularly within the first month of an injury, who I've seen experience the most remarkable improvement.

Many patients find that even after one session of traditional acupuncture their pain, movement and mobility will be improved, and their muscles don’t feel as stiff.  An example of this is a patient I saw last year who to come into clinic a few days after straining his lower back lifting something heavy.  I needled distal points in his hands and ankles before doing some gentle massage to ease the spasm in his back.  After treatment he was in considerably less discomfort and although still walking protectively, it was clear that he was in less pain and had more freedom of movement.

So don't put off coming for treatment....if you're physically able to come in early on you'll be on the road to recovery sooner rather than later.  Unless, there is a structural disc-related problem which requires rest, or the pain is severe, the advice now is that it is better to be active as soon as you're able to prevent muscles weakening and stiffening further.  Gentle movement encourages good blood flow to the injured area, which helps the back to heal. 

You'll be pleased to hear that often the number of treatments required for acute back pain will be less than for chronic back pain.  The treatment for chronic pain usually takes a little longer because areas of spasm can become locked-in, or other areas tighten due to over-compensation, when treatment to bring about muscular release has not been given early on.

Reassuringly, during the very early stage of an injury there is no need to needle locally into a painful area as there are points located in the ankles, wrists and hands that can do the job of releasing a painful muscular spasm.  Once the inflammation has subsided then you would target the local area with carefully placed needles to release tight spots and reduce pain.

Here are 5 Ways that Traditional Acupuncture can help with acute and chronic back pain:


Contrary to popular belief, traditional acupuncture is an incredibly relaxing experience. Some people of course will be naturally wary of the needles but they’re sterile and extremely fine! Acupuncture's strength is in its ability to elegantly target muscular tightness and spasm.  


By stimulating nerves located in muscles and other tissues, traditional acupuncture helps release the body's natural pain-relieving hormones, including endorphins and oxytocin. These hormones can change the way the body processes pain, helping to reduce discomfort and distress.  This can replace the need for synthetic drugs, without the risk of side effects.  Although you'll be pleased to hear that traditional acupuncture works just as effectively alongside modern medication and other therapies, such as osteopathy. In fact it can even speed up the recovery process.


When an acupuncture needle is inserted local anti-inflammatories are released, blood flow is increased to the local area and excess fluids are dispersed to promote healing and aid recovery.


Many patients find that even after one session of traditional acupuncture their movement and mobility will be improved and their muscles don’t feel as stiff.


Traditional acupuncture is an effective therapy that treats the whole person. This means each patient is treated as a unique individual so the acupuncture points chosen for one person with lower back pain may be different for another person with the same symptoms. This tailored approach is one of the key reasons traditional acupuncture is so effective.  The number of sessions needed will depend on each individual and whether their pain is chronic or not. I will put together an individualised treatment plan during your initial consultation.


Preventing back pain

In general, the more that your body has got used to flexing and extending, contracting and releasing the muscles that support the spine, the easier it is for muscle releasing pathways to be activated when you tweak your back.  This is why it is so important to regularly support the back with gentle exercises, such as Yoga or Tai chi, which are great ways of gently stretching the muscles in the lower back, as well as strengthening your core to help stabilise the spine.  Yoga is an effective way of lengthening the hamstrings too.  These are the big muscles in the back of the thighs which, when tight, can limit movement in the pelvis, making back injury more likely.


Back Pain Testimonial

Even yoga teachers can get tight and sore muscles!

I spend more hours than I would like sitting at a keyboard, and that combined with challenging myself on the mat can lead to complaints from my back.  This spring, I had booked a workshop that I was very much looking forward to on a Sunday, but on Thursday I was struck down by a killer muscle spasm.  I was gutted and was afraid I would have a long and painful recovery... but this story has a happy ending and now I have a tried and true system for recovering from minor muscular injury.  Immediately upon feeling the cramp, I took a low dosage pain killer to keep myself moving.  And where did I move to?  I went straight to Nicky for massage and needling to release the cramp as soon as possible.  I followed the treatment with a hot bath, a day of rest and then a gentle yoga practice, and by the Sunday I was mobile on the mat with no pain and an appetite for movement!  I think the primary benefit was treating the injury quickly so that I could keep moving, breathing, and healing.




I will be happy to discuss your problem and help you understand whether acupuncture can help you, before you commit to having any treatment

If you'd like you’d like a free 15 minute consultation please call me on 07583-291616.  Appointments can be made by contacting York Natural Health on 01904-788411.