Low back pain.

acup-lower-back-painIf your back has ever seized up, you’ll know it’s one of the most disabling experiences there is. Or perhaps you suffer from a more low-grade, but still annoying and uncomfortable, form of low back pain. You’re far from alone, with somewhere between 70 and 85% of us having suffered an acute back strain at some point. The pain may be brought on by heavy lifting, sudden movements, or prolonged standing or driving, or it may appear “out of the blue”.

Western medicine does not have much to offer sufferers of low back pain, with usual advice being to gradually resume usual activities, while taking painkillers for the discomfort. In the longer term, strengthening exercises and losing excess weight can be useful. Surgery may be recommended for some specific problems affecting the lumbar spine (especially if the nerves that exit the spine are trapped), but tends to be a last resort and is not always successful.


Acupuncture for low back pain

Acupuncture can be very effective in resolving low back pain. We are now seeing several research studies that confirm this, including some that show acupuncture to be more effective than the conventional approach described above. Interestingly, studies tend to show that very light needling or needling that does not penetrate the skin (approaches often used in Japanese-style acupuncture) can be as effective as deeper Chinese-style needling.


What happens in a treatment?

My approach to low back pain is to use the gentlest needling possible to reduce the pain and get you back to your normal life as quickly as possible. I use mainly the Japanese style of acupuncture, which focuses on light needling (of carefully selected points) with deeper techniques when required. Often the needles are warmed with moxibustion (a warming herb) to really “unknot” the underlying muscle and ligaments. Most people find the treatments extremely relaxing – the feeling is a bit like having a good massage. The points chosen and method of acupuncture depend on your constitution (the pattern you fall into based on your symptoms and on information gained from carefully palpating the body, and on examination of your pulse and tongue). It’s important to work on the underlying cause of the problem as well as the symptoms.

So what works for one person with low back pain may be quite different from what works for another.


How long will it take to work?

Back pain that has recently come on responds more quickly than pain that has been present months or years. There is usually a response within 4-6 treatments, with further treatments consolidating this. Generally, the treatments would be weekly (or sometimes twice-weekly for severe, acute back strain) for the first few, and then we reduce the frequency as the condition improves.