Acupuncture is a commonly recommended method of treatment for back pain because it’s gentle, has minimal risk, and is believed to be effective in providing relief. Considering the prevalence of chronic as well as acute back pain, it’s understandable why people are so eager to find treatment. This is why it’s important to determine whether there’s proof that alternative treatments such as this one provide back pain relief.
Acupuncture is a treatment performed by certified practitioners and physicians for various medical disorders that originated in China over 2000 years ago and is now practiced in various countries throughout the world, although it did not gain prominence in the United States until the early 1970s.
While most people are likely familiar with acupuncture, you may not know exactly what it entails or what the objective of this treatment is. The basic definition is inserting dry needles into the skin at specific locations of the body known as acupuncture points but there are many different techniques used to treat a number of health issues.
The technique used in treatment will depend on the experience of the practitioner or physician performing it, as well as the medical issue that is being treated. Different acupuncture techniques include electro acupuncture, which involves running an electrical current through the inserted needles, and moxibustion, which uses heat as a part of acupuncture treatment, and acupressure, which uses pressure to stimulate the body’s pressure points.
How It Works
Although we now know the basics of acupuncture, there’s much more to it then simply inserting needles into various points of the body.
According to ancient theory, energy flows throughout the human body and has the potential to be stimulated in order to create balance and health. This energy, which is considered a vital force and is called qi (pronounced “chee”), is believed to move through the body along 12 main channels referred to as meridians. The meridians represent the body’s major organs and the body’s functions, but they don’t necessarily follow the pathways of nerves or blood flow.
Acupuncture is used in an attempt to adjust imbalances in the flow of this energy and restore health through the stimulation of this energy, and this is done by inserting needles along the meridians.
The most recent information on acupuncture lists as many as 400 acupuncture points in order to treat different health issues.
Acupuncture is a relatively safe treatment with few risks when performed by a certified practitioner. The insertion of the needles causes very little pain and most patients describe it as simply a pinching or tingling sensation. The needles used are also sterile and disposable, so they are not used on multiple patients.
Of course, there are a few risks associated with this treatment, such as minor bleeding, bruising, infection, dizziness, lightheadedness, sedation skin rashes, and pain. Lung trauma and nerve injury are potential risks as well but have only happened in very rare instances.
However, acupuncture is not for everyone, and there are reasons to avoid this treatment. These reasons include bleeding disorders, blood-thinning medications, cardiac pacemaker use, pregnancy, and blood or skin infections.
Acupuncture For Back Pain
So what does the science have to say regarding acupuncture as a treatment for low back pain? Many studies have been conducted in an effort by scientists to explain whether or not there are actual physical effects of acupuncture on the human body.
Some of these studies have led researchers to suggest that acupuncture causes back pain relief by stimulating nerves. Researches have also theorized that acupuncture releases endorphins and serotonin, two chemicals known to help relieve pain.
Yet another theory is that acupuncture may be effective for back pain relief because it targets trigger points in the body. Finally, acupuncture is believed to work by decreasing inflammation through stimulation of the pituitary gland in order to release cortisol, which reduces inflammation.
Although it isn’t clear exactly why or how acupuncture works, this treatment has been shown to be helpful for some medical issues in some patients.
Studies About Acupuncture for Back Pain
A study published in 2015 determined that for those suffering from acute low back pain, there is evidence that acupuncture has a greater effect than sham acupuncture (a placebo form of acupuncture performed outside of acupuncture pressure points) in relieving pain and improving function, and does so more consistently.
Even for chronic low back pain, acupuncture was shown to provide short-term benefits for back pain relief and improve function. This was in comparison to the effects of no treatment or the effects of acupuncture coupled with conventional intervention.
Although it may not provide lasting relief, acupuncture has been shown to provide some benefits and may be helpful for those suffering from acute or chronic low back pain.
Another study published in 2013 involved 11 randomized controlled trials. The conclusion of this study is that acupuncture may be more effective in improving symptoms of acute low back pain than non-steroidal inflammatory drugs.
Overall, this shows that while acupuncture can provide some relief from back pain, if you suffer from chronic back pain that is debilitating, acupuncture may not be the right option for your treatment, especially if your goal is to improve your function.
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