According to a UNC study , back pain is one of the most prevalent reasons people go to the doctor. In fact, 80% of people will suffer from back pain at some time in their life, with a third of patients experiencing persistent back pain a year after the initial episode. Because it can lead to chronic pain and disability, seeking treatment for back pain has gained more popularity as studies of acupuncture demonstrate relief from back pain.
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How Acupuncture May Help
Many people want to know: is acupuncture good for lower back pain? The short answer is, yes. According to the American Pain Society , “acupuncture is one of the most common non-pharmaceutical pain relieving treatments.”
Although acupuncture has been used for thousands of years to treat pain, the exact mechanism for how it helps is relatively unknown. Some theories suggest the local action of sticking a needle near the area of pain creates an analgesic affect (meaning it relieves pain).
Some studies have shown that acupuncture increases adenosine concentrations, which inhibit pain receptors on nerves that transmit pain. This temporarily reduces the sensation of pain by blocking the transmission of the pain to the brain.
What about electroacupuncture?
Electroacupuncture is the application of electrical current to acupuncture needles. In some cases, the current may be applied to acupuncture points without the needles. Typically, you will feel a pulsating sensation at the point where the electrical current is applied and the voltage is so low, the current does not transmit through the body. There is currently no answer as to whether electroacupuncture or manual needle insertion is more effective for the treatment of back pain.
What about PENS?
You may also hear about percutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (PENS) for the treatment of back pain. This treatment uses acupuncture-like needles that apply low-level electrical stimulation when inserted into the skin. While PENS could be considered a form of electroacupuncture, the insertion points do not target acupuncture points, but rather dermatomal levels. The American Pain Society and the American College of Physicians do not have any conclusive data to support PENS as a treatment for back pain.
Risks and Side Effects
Acupuncture has some risks and side effects, which we’ve outlined here for you. These may include pain, bruising, soreness, or bleeding. Any type of treatment, including acupuncture, has risks for side effects. However, according to the American Family Physician, “12 prospective studies of more than 1 million acupuncture treatments showed the risk of a serious adverse event to be 0.05 per 10,000 treatments.” As long as acupuncture is performed by trained and qualified practitioners, evidence supports it as a safe treatment for back pain.
Other Therapies That May Help
Here’s a list of other therapies that may help relieve your back pain:
Intensive interdisciplinary rehabilitation
What to Expect
You may be wondering what acupuncture treatment is like. Here’s what to expect.
How many session of acupuncture will I need for back pain?
Because acupuncture treatment temporarily relieves pain, you may find that ongoing treatment is necessary. Most patients will seek a minimum of six treatments initially to determine the efficacy of the acupuncture treatment. After your initial treatments, you may evaluate how effective the treatments have been and the frequency needed in order to control your back pain.
Lower back pain
The American College of Physicians (ACP) lists acupuncture as one of the non-drug therapies patients should utilize for treating acute or subacute low back pain. If you have chronic low back pain, the first-line of treatment recommended by the ACP is nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs. But that doesn’t mean you can’t also utilize acupuncture as a secondary treatment.
Additionally, the American Pain Society recommends acupuncture as a nonpharmacologic therapy with proven benefits for chronic or subacute low back pain.
Many people also want to know if acupuncture will help with thoracic pain. Your thoracic spine is found in the region of your mid-back. Because this type of back pain is often associated with deteriorating discs, acupuncture treatment is not always successful in relieving mid-back pain.
Upper back pain
Because upper back pain is also associated with neck pain, you may be interested in how acupuncture helps neck pain.
Acupuncture points for back pain relief
Acupuncture points that may help with back pain relief include:
CV6 stomach point
B23 and B47 lower back points (on each side of lower back)
LI4 hand point
B48 and G30 hip points (also helps with sciatica)
B53 and B54 points
Other Holistic Therapies to Consider
In addition to meditation, you might consider some of the following therapies to help with your back pain:
Chiropractic for Back Pain
Massage Therapy for Back Pain
Meditation for Back Pain
Tai Chi for Back Pain
Find an Acupuncturist near you
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Liang, Y.-D., Li, Y., Zhao, J., Wang, X.-Y., Zhu, H.-Z., & Chen, X.-H. (2017). Study of acupuncture for low back pain in recent 20 years: a bibliometric analysis via CiteSpace. Journal of Pain Research, 10, 951–964. Retrieved June 10, 2018, from https://www.dovepress.com/study-of-acupuncture-for-low-back-pain-in-recent-20-years-a-bibliometr-peer-reviewed-fulltext-article-JPR
Qaseem A, Wilt TJ, McLean RM, Forciea MA, for the Clinical Guidelines Committee of the American College of Physicians. Noninvasive Treatments for Acute, Subacute, and Chronic Low Back Pain: A Clinical Practice Guideline From the American College of Physicians. Ann Intern Med. 2017;166:514–530. Retrieved June 10, 2018, from http://annals.org/aim/fullarticle/2603228/noninvasive-treatments-acute-subacute-chronic-low-back-pain-clinical-practice .
Takano, T., Chen, X., Luo, F., Fujita, T., Ren, Z., Goldman, N., . . . Nedergaard, M. (2012). Traditional Acupuncture Triggers a Local Increase in Adenosine in Human Subjects. Traditional Acupuncture Triggers a Local Increase in Adenosine in Human Subjects,13(12), 1215-1223. Retrieved June 10, 2018, from https://www.jpain.org/article/S1526-5900(12)00830-9/abstract