Acupuncture for low back pain

Posted from


“Nearly 8 out of every 10 people will have low back pain at some point in life. Back pain is one of the top reasons people seek medical treatment. It is also the No. 1 reported reason for seeking acupuncture. The good news is chronic low back pain is one of the conditions that research suggests acupuncture may be an effective tool for treating.

One recent review of 22 acupuncture studies showed that it provided short-term relief from chronic back pain. It also showed there was greater improvement in pain for people who got acupuncture compared to those who received a “sham” treatment. Other studies have found, though, that sham acupuncture can be as effective as actual acupuncture. Those studies also found that, compared to standard treatment, both actual acupuncture and sham acupuncture are more effective.

Guidelines from the American Pain Society and American College of Physicians say doctors should consider acupuncture as an alternative therapy for patients with chronic low-back pain that’s not helped by conventional treatment.

related content

How Acupuncture Appears to Help Back Pain

Acupuncture began in China more than 2,500 years ago. It involves inserting thin needles at certain points on the body. According to traditional Chinese medicine, the body has more than 2,000 of these points. They are connected by pathways or meridians, which create a flow of energy called Qi (pronounced “chee”). Stimulating these points is said to correct the imbalance of qi and improve the flow of energy. Practitioners believe that this helps relieve pain and improve health.

It’s thought the effects come from stimulating the central nervous system. This may trigger the release of chemicals into the muscles, spinal cord, and brain. These chemicals either alter the experience of pain or produce bodily changes that promote a sense of well-being.

Other theories suggest acupuncture works by:

  • Speeding the relay of electromagnetic signals. This may begin the flow of pain-killing chemicals such as endorphins. Or it may release immune system cells in the body.
  • Triggering the release of natural opioids. These are chemicals in the brain that may lessen pain or promote sleep.
  • Changing brain chemistry by altering the release of neurotransmitters and neurohormones. Neurotransmitters either stimulate or dampen nerve impulses. Neurohormones can affect the function or activity of an organ in the body.

Chronic Pain Tips

Chronic pain is pain that lasts for more than 3 months. This is after the body has healed the tissue and life should be back to normal, but it’s not, because of the nagging pain. Sometimes chronic pain can be deep enough that no form of therapy seems to take the pain away. Pain management instead of getting rid of the pain becomes the goal. Forms of management are usually activities that are calming, non invasive and feel safe like Tai Chi, Yoga, walking, massage, spending time in nature, singing, meditation, and joining support groups. These are all great activities but in the day to day management of life, what else can one do? Dr. Diane LaChapelle outlines the 5 P’s of pain management:

Pace your tasks

Space your activities out over the day and week to avoid doing too much one day and not being able to do enough the next day.

Plan your tasks

Organize your day by setting small achievable goals. This way, you can manage as much as possible without suffering afterwards. Try to space your activity out over the day and week by breaking big jobs down into smaller tasks and taking periods of rest between each task (pacing). By planning ahead, you can get the job done without straining.

Prioritize your tasks

Figure out what is most important for you to accomplish today and this week. Then plan and pace accordingly. Remember that you have a limited amount of energy and time and that you may not be able to accomplish as much as you once did. Setting priorities is more important than ever. The page in this section entitled “Identifying Your Values” will help you identify your priorities.

Position your body and equipment correctly

For example, bend your knees when lifting and have an ergonomic computer work station. Consider consulting an occupational therapist or physiotherapist for recommendations about useful equipment and appropriate body positioning.

Problem solve to find an easier or different way to do tasks

Do you love to garden but find it too painful to kneel on the ground or to bend down to weed? Try container gardening or raised beds. Do you enjoy camping but find the ground too hard and cold to sleep in a tent? How about renting a cabin? Do you love going to the movies but cannot sit for that long? Arrive early and pick a seat in the back row so you can get up and stretch during the film. With a little creative problem solving, you might be able to continue doing many of the tasks you enjoy.

More information can be found on the Canadian Institute for the relief of pain and disability.