When I am asking people if they’ve had acupuncture before and what it was for, back pain is probably the most common answer. This is hardly surprising as acupuncture is known for its ability to relieve pain but also because back pain is a very common complaint.
In most instances, people are suffering from lower back pain. One of the top causes of back pain are sprains (overstretching one or more of the ligaments in the back) and strains (a rip or tear in the muscle caused by sudden force). This can happen from an injury, poor posture, or improper lifting.
Sciatica is another common form of back pain. Sciatica is a term used to describe pain that extends down into the buttocks and leg which comes from an irritation of a larger nerve in the lumbar spine called the sciatic nerve. Sciatica can accompany sprains, strains, herniated discs as well as back pain emanating from other sources.
Back pain can also happen during pregnancy, because of stress, viral infection or kidney infection.
The National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE) guidelines on best practice now recommend that GPs offer a course of 10 sessions of acupuncture as a first line treatment for persistent, non-specific low back pain.
The aim of acupuncture is to restore the flow of energy in the body to promote self-healing. Different techniques can be used: needling but also cupping (vacuum cups to help relax the muscles, improve blood and energy flow) and moxibustion (a warming technique which involves burning tightly packed herbs near the patient skin on a needle or with a stick).
When treating back pain, an acupuncturist will palpate your back to find the areas that are the most sensitive and needle those. But it is also possible to use distal points, acupuncture points that are further away from the area of pain, usually on the hands and feet. These are just as efficient as local points and are particularly suitable in case of an acute injury.
He/she might also check where are the restrictions in movement and where is the pain associated with a certain movement (referred pain).
Cupping will help improving the blood flow in the area and relax the muscles.
Moxibustion, because of its warming effect, helps relaxing the muscles, especially if the area is cold to the touch.