It is statistically known that roughly 8 out of every 10 people will experience some sort of back pain during their lifetime. Spine-related pain or discomfort are among the top reasons why people seek medical attention. Statistically it is also the No. 1 reason for seeking help from acupuncture practitioners.
Fortunately, chronic back pain is one of the conditions that research suggests acupuncture may effectively reduce or alleviate.
Recent thorough research concluded that “acupuncture provided short-term relief from chronic back pain”. There was also data reflecting a greater improvement in pain for people receiving acupuncture treatments compared to those who received a “sham” (placebo) treatment.
However, other studies suggest that ‘placebo’ acupuncture can be as effective as actual acupuncture. The same research also found that, compared to standard medical treatment, both actual acupuncture and “sham” acupuncture were more effective. Evidently, it is not about the precision in getting the right points with the needle, but about how much the patient believes it is going to help her.
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.
How Acupuncture Is Likely Relieving Back Pain
Acupuncture treatment method was first mentioned in China as far back as 500 BC. The procedure is generally painless. It involves inserting thin needles at certain points on the body. According to traditional Chinese medicine, the body has more than 2,000 of acupuncture points. They are connected by energetic pathways or meridians, which maintain the flow of energy called life force energy – Qi (pronounced “chee”). Stimulating these points is believed to correct the imbalance of qi and improve the flow of energy. Acupuncture professionals suggest that this helps in relieving pain and improving health of an individual receiving the treatment.
The general idea is that the benefits 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 actual perception of pain in the body or produce the changes in it, promoting a sense of well-being.
Acupuncture may also work by:
- Speeding the delivery of electromagnetic (nerve) signals. This may encourage the flow of natural pain-killer chemicals in the body (such as enkephalins and endorphins). Or it may release immune system cells in the body.
- Initiating and encouraging the production of body’s natural opioids. These are chemicals in the brain that may result in painkiller or sleep-inducing effects.
- Altering the chemical balance in the brain by changing the rate of release of neurotransmitters and neurohormones. Neurotransmitters either stimulate or dampen nerve impulses. Neurohormones are directly affecting the function or activity of an organ in the body.
Acupuncture: Risks? Side Effects?
When done by an experienced, trained acupuncturist, the procedure is generally safe and painless. Serious side effects, such as infections or punctured organs, are rare. Also, acupuncture has fewer adverse side effects than many of the standard treatments for back pain.
Acupuncture: Points to Consider
It always makes a good sense to discuss it with your doctor if you are considering acupuncture as our next treatment of choice. Make sure your doctor knows all other medications you are taking. Also inform your doctor if you are pregnant, wear a pacemaker, or have any type of implant.
It is worth your while to find out how many treatments you should expect and how much they will cost before starting the course of acupuncture; also find out if your health insurance will cover it.
Bottom line: acupuncture may provide short-term pain relief, but it does not treat the condition that causes that pain.