Acupuncture Therapy for Back Pain

Acupuncture is a form of traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) that involves the insertion of thin needles into the skin at strategic points. Although acupuncture is not a traditional part of Western medicine, it is gaining acceptance as a nonsurgical treatment option for neck and back pain.

Acupuncture focuses on the theory of chi (life force) and how it flows through the 20 meridians (pathways) of the body. The underlying principle of acupuncture is that there are over 2,000 points on the body that connect to these meridians, and by stimulating these points in specific combinations and sequences, the flow of chi can be maintained or normalized.

How does acupuncture relieve back pain?

Acupuncture has been shown to relieve the painful symptoms associated with prolapsed discs, other degenerative spine conditions, bone spurs, and failed back surgery syndrome (FBSS), among other ailments. But how does it work?

Medical science has yet to fully understand how or why acupuncture works to relieve pain. However, there are a number of observed physical effects of the procedure that may help explain its effectiveness.

  • Acupuncture stimulates the central nervous system. Patients undergoing the procedure often report tingling sensations and an increase in energy.
  • Acupuncture stimulates electromagnetic points on the body. This is thought to release endorphins, which are neurotransmitters that are naturally produced by the body. Endorphins are believed to promote a sense of well-being and block pain signals.
  • Acupuncture is theorized to stimulate the pituitary gland and hypothalamus, thereby releasing neurohormones and neurotransmitters that affect how the body and brain experience pain.

It is important to remember that while acupuncture can be effective at relieving the symptoms of sciatica, herniated discs, and other spinal conditions, it is not a cure and may not work for everyone.

Is acupuncture safe?

Acupuncture is generally considered to be safe, as long as it is administered by a registered, licensed practitioner. In the United States, the Federal Drug Administration (FDA) requires the use of sterile, one-time-use needles, which must be in a sealed container prior to use. Injuries are rare when working with a trained acupuncturist.

However, since acupuncture involves penetrating the skin, it cannot be considered totally non-invasive, and it does carry some risks. The most common complications from acupuncture include bruising and bleeding at the insertion site, infection, nausea and fainting. Although rare, more serious side effects, such as nerve damage, brain damage or stroke are possible.

Before starting acupuncture or any other new pain treatment strategy, consult your physician to determine if the program is right for you.