Treating Lower Back Pain With Acupuncture
"Pain is your body's way of telling you that something is wrong. When a particular movement hurts, you need to rest or seek help."
Lower back pain can be described as tension, soreness or stiffness in the area between the bottom of the rib cage and the buttock creases and may also extend to the upper legs.
Lower back pain has many causes. Sometimes it can come on suddenly ('acute') such as following an injury e.g. lifting or it can develop over a period of time. Many types of back pain resolve quickly however some can last for months or years ('chronic').
Back pain can originate in different areas. Sometimes the pain comes from muscles, joints or the nerves which branch out from the vertebral discs of the spine. Often it can be a combination of all three. Examination by a health care professional can often help differentiate between these conditions, and malignancies as well as diseases that effect organs such as your kidneys.
"Acupuncture can speed up your recovery, helping you to return to your normal activities faster. It is safe, effective and recommended by the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence for the treatment of lower back pain."
"Low back pain is an uncomfortable condition that can interfere with the way you perform at work or school and prevent you living your life to the fullest."
Acupuncture can provide long term relief from back pain
Assessment by a qualified acupuncturist will include taking a full history and conducting an examination to determine the location, nature and extent of your pain. Acupuncture treatment can safely be given for acute and chronic lower back pain.
Many people show a rapid response to acupuncture and experience immediate pain relief, in other cases the condition may require several courses of treatment. Pain relief through treatment with acupuncture can also reduce the need for medication. For more chronic pain, acupuncture can play an important role in maintaining a healthy back and reduce the chance of a return to pain.
Acupuncture can safely be given in combination with other forms of treatment including massage and pain killers. It is important to tell your practitioner what other forms of treatment you may be receiving and what if any other conditions you have. These can influence the type of treatment you will receive and will help your acupuncturist give you the most effective treatment for your condition.
Acupuncture, manual therapy (such as massage) and exercise is recommended by the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE) for the early treatment and management of persistent and recurrent low back pain, defined as non-specific low back pain that has lasted for more than 6 weeks, but for less than 12 months.
"It is estimated that 80% of the worlds population will suffer from back pain at some point in their lives, with the lower back as the most common site of pain."
How many sessions will I need?
The NICE guidelines for low back pain (2009) recommend 10 sessions over a period of up to 12 weeks. The aim of the recommended treatments is to reduce the pain and its impact on your day-to-day life, even if the pain cannot be cured completely.
Believe it or not, acupuncture really does help ease back pain
Using acupuncture to treat chronic back pain is more effective than standard treatments alone, a leading scientific study has found.
Trails involving 638 back pain sufferers have suggested that acupuncture is successful in relieving discomfort , although how it works remains unclear. A "fake" version also produced results, indicating that belief in the therapy may have played a key role in its success.
In the project, known as Spine (stimulating points to investigate needling efficacy), patients were divided into groups to receive standard care alone, with one of two variants of genuine acupuncture or with a placebo.
The simulated acupuncture involved mimicking needle pricks using tooth picks hidden inside guide tubes that did not penetrate the skin. Patients were treated twice a week for three weeks and then weekly for a month. At intervals of eight week, six months and a year, the researchers measured back pain symptoms and their impact on quality of life.
Both types of genuine acupuncture — either individually tailored or a standardised treatment — produced a substantial improvement in symptoms and the ability of patients to cope with their
condition at eight weeks. By contrast, patients on standard care were only slightly better. The beneficial effects lasted for a year, although they waned over time. However the placebo "toothpick" treatment turned out to be just as good at combating back pain as real acupuncture.
The findings were published yesterday in the journal 'archives of internal medicine'. Daniel Cherkin, the trial leader from the Group Health Centre for Health Studies, in Seattle, said:"We found that simulated acupuncture produced as much benefit as needle acupuncture. That raises questions about how acupuncture works."
Dr Cherkin said the results had important implications for patients who found conventional treatments ineffective. "The reduction in long term exposure to the potential adverse effects of medications is also an important benefit that may enhance the safety of conventional medical care." he said.
Karen Sherman, also a member of the research team, said that, historically, some types of acupuncture have used non-penetrating needles, possibly explaining the success of the placebo treatment.
"We don't know why people got back pain relief from the simulated acupuncture." Dr Sherman said. "Maybe the context in which people get treatment has effects that are more important than the mechanical effects."
At the eight-week stage 60 per cent of patients receiving any type of acupuncture had a clinical meaningful improvement in their level of functioning, compared with 39 per cent of those receiving regular care. At the one-year point, 59 to 65 per cent of those in the acupuncture groups experienced an improvement, compared with 50 per cent of the standard care group.
Back pain is the largest single cause of work-related absence in Britain. Lower back pain, also known as lumbago, affects seven out of ten people at some time in their lives.
Josephine Briggs, director of the US National Centre for Complimentary and Alternative Medicine, which funded the spine trail said: "The findings add to the growing body of evidence that something meaningful is taking place during acupuncture treatments. Future research is needed to delve deeper into what is evoking these responses."