Back problems are the most common physical complaint among Canadian adults, with non-specific back pain as a leading cause of lost job time. About 80% of the world’s population will suffer from back pain at one time or another, with the lower back being the most common location of pain. While most episodes of low back pain resolve within two weeks, research has shown that recurrence of the pain can reach as high as 50% within a few months of the initial episode. ¹,²
Another reason why you might want to treat your back pain is that a study at reported in The Journal of Neuroscience found that chronic back pain actually shrinks the brain by as much as 11%, particularly the gray matter, which is important for decision-making, social behaviour, and memory! This is equivalent to about 10 to 20 years of aging.³
Back pain can have many causes including osteoarthritis; muscle, tendon, ligament, or joint inflammation or damage due to overuse, injury, weakness, or other causes; damage to the spinal discs; and kidney infection.
A study in the Clinical Journal of Pain showed that acupuncture is a safe and effective treatment for low back pain. Each patient had been suffering from low back pain for at least six months and had tried a variety of other therapies (including nerve blocks, corsets, drugs, and physiotherapy), but to no avail. During the study, patients recorded pain levels, intake of pain-killers (analgesics), sleep quality, and activity level. As compared to a “mock acupuncture” group, the real acupuncture group improved significantly in all categories, and when re-interviewed six months later, still continued to feel better.4
Clinical achievements, along with positive research results, prompted the National Institutes of Health to declare acupuncture a reasonable treatment option for those suffering low back pain.
Acupuncture is not the only form of TCM treatment that can help to relieve back pain. Moxibustion, cupping, electroacupuncture, and biopuncture can all be used alone or during acupuncture treatment. In addition, there are many herbs that strengthen the spine and reduce inflammation and pain.
¹ Moffett JK, Torgerson D, Bell-Syer S, et al. Randomised controlled trial of exercise for low back pain: clinical outcomes, cost and preferences. British Medical Journal July 31, 1999;319(7205):279-283.
² Nyiendo J, Haas M, Goodwin P. Patient characteristics, practice activities, and one-month outcomes for chronic, recurrent low-back pain treated by chiropractors and family medical physicians: a practice-based feasibility study. Journal of Manipulative and Physiological Therapeutics May 2000; 23(4):239-45.
³ Apkarian, A. The Journal of Neuroscience, Nov. 23, 2004. News release, Northwestern University.
4 Carlsson C, Sjlund B. Acupuncture for chronic low back pain: a randomized placebo-controlled study with long-term follow-up. Clinical Journal of Pain 2001;17(4):296-305.