Acupuncture is well-known for its ability to relieve pain. But how does it do this, and is the benefit temporary or long term?
To get good results with any form of treatment, you need three things- correct diagnosis, correct treatment, and correct dosage. If all three are correct, the treatment will work well. However if the assessment is incorrect, the results won’t be good even if the treatment is great. So the acupuncturist will firstly need to check carefully what is causing your back pain.
The exact process of how acupuncture points work is still not fully understood, however they seem to act like tiny controls for the body that can be adjusted up or down to change the way the body is working. There are many hundreds of these points, and over thousands of years we have learnt how they alter and correct the body. With a skilled acupuncturist, there is very little or no sensation from the extremely fine needles, and many people find the treatments have a very relaxing effect.
Surprisingly, most acupuncture points are well away from the areas they treat. For example, an important point for stomach pain is on the shin, one for heart pain is on the wrist, and for sinus pain a point on the top of the foot is often used.
In a treatment, the most important points are those that treat the cause of the problem. These points are referred to as the ‘Root’ treatment. Sometimes, other points near the problem area are used to support the Root treatment, and this is called the ‘Branch’ treatment.
(Some of the many differences between acupuncture and dry needling include
The most common causes of back pain include alignment problems, inflammation, muscle tension or spasm, and tissue damage or injuries.
Alignment and Muscle Imbalances
Your back is designed to be strong and flexible at the same time. This makes it a very complex structure, with lots of different muscles all pulling in different directions. When the tension in all of these muscles is balanced, your back will work well and feel good. Think of the mast on an old sailing ship- if all of the ropes holding it up are correctly tensioned, the mast will be nice and strong, but if some ropes are too tight and some are too loose, the mast is much more likely to bend or crack or split when it is put under pressure.
The imbalances between the muscles can be due to a variety of causes, including poor posture, repetitive movements using only some of the muscles (such as from sports, cleaning, or work activities), injuries, lack of physical activity, etc. The most common ways these imbalances affect your back is by changing the alignment of your pelvis (hips), your spine, or your whole torso.
Your pelvis is the foundation of your entire back, so if one hip is higher than the other or if the pelvis is slightly twisted, it can cause pain in a variety of places in your back. (Imagine the foundation of a house being uneven, causing the walls to start cracking.) A pelvis imbalance will often affect the base of your spine, where the spine attaches to your pelvis.
The spine contains many small vertebrae to make it nice and flexible. However this means it can easily become crooked by muscles pulling on it unevenly.
Your shoulders tend to follow your hips, so if one hip is too high the shoulder above it will often be too high as well. (See A Common Cause of Back, Neck & Shoulder Problems for more details.)
One of the best acupuncture points for this type of back pain is called Ki9, which is about 2/3 down the inside of the calf, where the main part of the calf muscle stops. Often the hips will visibly be far more level and aligned after using this point.
If the spine is bent to one side or the vertebrae are sitting unevenly on top of each other, the acupuncture point GB39 is very important. This point is about one hand-span above the outside ankle, and if the back pain is caused by this type of alignment problem, it can work very well to resolve the pain.
In some ways, the trunk or torso can be viewed as a rectangle, with the hips and shoulders forming the corners. If one of these corners has shifted, it will often affect the other 3 corners as well. For example, if the left hip is tilted down the right hip will be tilted up, and this may cause the shoulders to go out of alignment as well. (So if someone has a shoulder problem, it might be due to a misalignment of one of their hips, or vice-versa.)
Pain caused by this condition is treated by using specific points at all of the four ‘corners’, correcting the torso alignment and relieving the pain.
We often have clients come to us saying that they saw a very good physiotherapist, chiropractor, massage therapist, etc, and despite their best efforts the pain hasn’t improved. Often in these cases we find there is a lot of inflammation involved, and once the inflammation is cleared the pain is relieved. (Note that inflammation can still be an issue even when anti-inflammatory medication doesn’t help.)
The main points for inflammation in the lower back are on the little toe- Bl66 and Bl67. If the pain is more in the hips or buttocks, GB43 and GB44 on the second toe are used instead.
In most cases, treating the alignment issues will cause the release of the muscle tension or spasm in the back. If there is still some tightness or soreness left after this, there are a variety of points on the legs that can be used.
Bone Pain– if the pain is due to a bone problem, Ki7 is the major point to treat it. This point is located in a hollow above the inside ankle bone. (Sometimes this point is very effective for arthritis as well., even though arthritis is more of a joint problem.)
Muscle Pain– Sp3.2 is the most effective point for pain caused by damaged muscles, such as a muscle tear. (Different points are usually used for muscles that are sore from being very tight.) The point is on the inside of the foot, just before the bump near the bottom of the big toe.
Tendons and Ligament Pain– Liv8 is used for pain from any connective tissue damage, such as a badly sprained ankle or a torn ligament. This point is just above the end of the crease on the inside of the leg that appears when the knee is bent.
Disc Pain– if from a damaged disc, Ren12 can often be quite effective in relieving the pain. Ren12 is midway between the bottom of the sternum and the navel.
Nerve Damage Pain– most of the time nerve pain is treated by relieving the pressure on the nerve. However if the pain is due to actual damage to the nerve, Lu8 is usually the best point to relieve the pain. This point is on the inside of the wrist, about 1 cm below the thumb.
As you can see, an acupuncture treatment can involve a variety of factors. A skilled Brisbane acupuncturist can quickly get to the cause of the problem, and start the process of relieving the pain and helping the tissues heal and repair.
If you suffer from back pain, we offer a free Comprehensive Assessment, to investigate what is causing the problem and the best way to fix it. (Terms and conditions- the Assessment is a completely free service, with no obligations whatsoever.) Most people find their Assessment to be very helpful and informative.
Be well, and have a great life!
Valued at $120, your Assessment will help to uncover:
All this will be fully explained to you, and you can ask as many questions as you like. That way we can be sure to give you all of the right information, understanding and advice you need. Terms and conditions: This is a free, no obligation offer.