In acupuncture, a trained practitioner carefully inserts extremely thin needles into the skin. The acupuncturist places the needles along various points of the body depending on the condition being treated. There may be a number of needles used during each session, and some needle placement (an example being a case of back or neck pain) may not be placed just over the area of complaint. A patient may experience mild discomfort or even no pain at all during this form of treatment.
Two distinctly different viewpoints explain how acupuncture works to relieve back pain: the viewpoint of Western Science and the viewpoint of traditional Chinese medicine. Each gives a rationale for how acupuncture works.
Stated simply, Western science explains that the needles trigger the release of the body’s natural painkillers, called endorphins, and immune system cells. Western medicine believes that the needles work with the central nervous system to send the endorphins and immune system cells to the site of back pain. Each session controls back pain in two ways: Needles placed in the back block the pain to the specific area, and needles placed away from the back stimulate the brain’s natural pain blockers.
The traditional Chinese theory behind using acupuncture for back pain remains more complex. The simplest explanation describes health as a balance within the body as well as a balance between the body’s vital energy and nature’s forces. Energy channels called meridians link internal forces and act as pathways for qi (chi). Qi is the body’s “energy”, and imbalances within the body blocks this flow of qi energy. Acupuncture needles enter the body at key points along the blocked meridians to restore and refresh the circulation of energy. In this manner, acupuncturists seek to restore energy balance in an attempt to correct back pain and injury and possibly even prevent future back problems.
Acupuncture successfully treats lower back pain, chronic back pain, sciatica, muscle spasms, and back tension caused by pain as well as reduced movement, numbness and tingling related to back pain. It remedies three main concerns of patients.
The Pain: Back pain diminishes after each session and generally ends after 4-10 sessions, often without the aid of drugs.
The Cause: A thorough examination determines and eliminates the exact cause of back pain.
The Recurrence: Regular acupuncture sessions prevent back pain from returning, which is a common concern among back pain sufferers.
Risks and Fears
Contrary to the fear many people have, which stems from experience with injections and blood draws, acupuncture should not hurt. A few people report slight discomfort during the needles’ placement, and some people feel heaviness, numbness, tingling, or warmth at the site of the needle. If you try acupuncture, you should report any unpleasant sensations or fears to the practitioner, who can then use either smaller needles or a gentler touch. Overall, most people find themselves surprised at how relaxing and calming a session is; some people actually fall asleep during the 20-40 minutes of each session.
Some acupuncture practitioners may suggest dietary changes, heat therapy, herbal medicine and massage in addition to acupuncture; however, the entire treatment package focuses on natural methods of healing. Discuss acupuncture with a medical professional or a licensed practitioner to determine if this method of treatment is appropriate for specific back or neck injuries.