Alternative Medicine: Acupuncture for Back Pain

Lower back pain is something that most of us have experienced at least once in our lives

It could be from a weekend of playing touch football, or something as simple as picking a piece of paper off the floor. Luckily, a few days of rest and maybe an Ibuprofen are enough to soothe those stressed and cramped muscles. But for some, it can lead to long-term chronic back pain. 

When back pain becomes chronic

If you have chronic back pain, some common diagnoses from your primary care provider might be sciatica, herniated discs, or something as simple as spasming lower back muscles. 

Chronic pain is pain that frequently re-occurs or is constant for an extended period of time. In Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), it is often diagnosed as “cold damp congestion” or “hot damp congestion.” These are just ways of describing the stiff, achy feeling that comes when it’s cold and damp outside, or the hot, burning sensations that occur with arthritis pain. Chronic low back pain, in TCM, can also be associated with Kidney deficiency.  Acupuncture works well for all of these symptoms.

Anatomy of the lower back

The areas of the lower back are called the lumbar and sacral regions. The lumbar vertebrae are larger than the other vertebrae in the spine; their larger size helps to support the weight of the rest of the upper body. Between each vertebrae are intervertebral discs that consist of a jelly-like substance. The discs act as a soft cushion and shock absorber for the stresses the body and spine encounter in daily life.

Causes of lower back pain

There are many bone and disc degeneration disorders such as spinal stenosis (degradation of the bone in the vertebrae), or herniated discs (rupturing of the disc causing leakage or bulging). Herniated discs can cause pain, as can the muscles themselves within the lower back.

The muscles commonly involved in lower back pain are:

  • The erector spinae group – long muscles on either side of the spine, stretching from the base of the neck to the base of the spine. 
  • Quadratus lumborum –  a pair of large muscles on either side of the lower spine, attached to the upper portion of the pelvis, the side of the low back and the bottom rib.
  • Iliopsoas – a complex of three muscles forming the strongest hip flexor; assists in external rotation of the leg and plays a role in maintaining the strength and integrity of the hip joint. Essential for correct standing or sitting lumbar posture, and during walking and running. 
  • The gluteals – A group of three muscles which make up the gluteal region commonly known as the buttocks: the gluteus maximus, gluteus medius and gluteus minimus. The three muscles originate from the ilium and sacrum and insert on the femur. The functions of the muscles include extension, abduction, external rotation, and internal rotation of the hip joint. 
  • Abdominal muscles – Support the trunk. The deep abdominal muscles work with the back muscles to help keep the body stable and balanced, and protect the spine. 

These muscles form opposing muscle groups for balance. Weakness of the abdominal muscles can cause an increased curve of the spine, which can lead to back pain.

Alternative treatments for back pain

 Here are some things you can do in addition to the care suggested by your primary care provider:

  • Acupuncture
  • Chiropractic
  • Massage
  • Physical Therapy
  • Stretches
  • Yoga
  • Tai Chi
  • Qi Gong

Acupuncture works well alone or in conjunction with other therapies to decrease flare-ups of chronic low back pain. Not only can acupuncture treat the pain and other symptoms you may be experiencing (e.g. decreased mobility and flexibility), but it can also treat the underlying cause of the pain and why you experience it so frequently.

Avatar photo

Teri began her studies in energy medicine as part of her own personal development journey, and continues to to learn and integrate that knowledge into her practice. Teri is the founding practitioner of Calandra Center for Health & Wellness in Schaumburg, Illinois. She is licensed by the State of Illinois in acupuncture (L.Ac.), and board certified through the National Certification Commission for Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine (NCCAOM).