Millions of Americans suffer from back pain, with an estimated 50% of all working Americans admitting to having back symptoms each year. Back pain is the most common reason for missed work and the second most common reason for visits to the doctor’s office. It is estimated that in 2012, 50 billion American dollars were spent for back pain therapies.
Traditional “conservative” treatments for back pain in the U.S. include physical therapy, massage, ice/heat, anti-inflammatory medications, and activity modification. Other treatments include spinal injections and spine surgery. Although new medical technology and minimally invasive surgical options continue to emerge and become more available, these techniques do have associated risks, recovery times, potential complications, and they are not always successful.
Before the advent of modern Western medicine, there were no antibiotics, no MRI’s, no method to properly measure blood pressure, and no surgery. We have wisely learned from the Chinese and other Eastern medical traditions that, in fact, not everything can be seen or measured. There are energy channels or meridians that exist and carry vital life force, or “chi”, in specific patterns around the body. And when there are blockages or disruptions to this vital life energy, one of the most common results is pain. Chronic pain itself can lead to further disruption of vital energy and ultimately cause harm or disease to the internal organs, most notably the heart, lungs, and kidneys. When energy disruption has progressed to this disease stage, it can be quite challenging to treat the root problem, and so we often rely on medications and surgery to intervene at this time.
Medical acupuncture serves to restore the natural and healthful flow of energy, or chi, to the body. It is conducted in a therapeutic environment and on a comfortable massage table with a head support. Through the careful placement of tiny needles at various points on the body in a specific pattern, the acupuncturist helps to diminish pain and restore natural balance to the patient. Needles are usually left in place for a period of twenty minutes or so. They may also be subtly manipulated, gently heated, or lightly pulsed with electrical stimulation.
During and after the completion of an acupuncture session, patients will typically feel relaxed and may experience an overall sense of well-being. Symptomatic relief of pain may occur immediately or, more commonly, after the cumulative effect of several sessions. Side effects rarely occur, they are not dangerous, and they resolve within minutes should they occur. These include light-headedness and fogginess.
Acupuncture can be an effective treatment for back pain and other painful conditions including arthritis, neck pain, headache, myofascial pain, and many others. If you are suffering from a painful condition and seeking a benign alternative to typical Western medication, injections, and surgery, ask your physician if acupuncture might be appropriate for you.