By: Peter Games, L.Ac.
Pain comes in many different shapes and sizes. Pain can rear its ugly head as mild discomfort that “comes and goes” or severe, excruciating agony that takes our breath away. Pain may be completely debilitating, interfering with exercise, work, sleep, and countless other activities or it may be a minor nuisance that doesn’t slow us down at all. It can be the result of a specific incident or it can seemingly come from nowhere. Pain is even described with a wide range of terms, including soreness, aching, tenderness, burning, tightness, or throbbing.
We have all experienced some type of physical pain at one time or another. Yet, even though we all know what pain is, it can still be difficult to actually define. It is usually described as an unpleasant sensory experience and it is incredibly common in our society. Half of all Americans seek medical care for pain each year and it is the most common reason for visiting a doctor.
Despite our disdain for pain, it actually serves a purpose, and a valuable one at that. Pain is part of our body’s defense system and its purpose is to help us avoid harmful behavior. In other words, it’s your body’s way of telling you that it doesn’t like what you are doing and it would prefer that you stop doing it. Sometimes we choose not to listen to that message and other times we have no choice but to hear it and comply.
What are the common approaches for relieving pain? Drugs are very popular for pain relief and they can be very effective. Unfortunately, the adverse effects of numerous drugs have become known in recent years and many of us find the information troubling. Pain relief medications can lead to gastrointestinal complications, liver damage, or kidney reactions. In addition, some pain relief drugs have already been taken off the market because of an increased risk of heart attack or stroke.
Treating Pain with Acupuncture
Increasingly, people are looking for more natural approaches to help relieve painful conditions. Acupuncture is one natural approach that continues to grow in popularity in the United States.
Acupuncture can be helpful for all types of pain, regardless of what is causing the pain or where the pain is located.
The theory behind acupuncture and Chinese medicine states that there is an energy that flows through the human body. This energy can become obstructed for a variety of different reasons. When this occurs, the obstruction results in pain or discomfort. This is summed up by the well-known Chinese saying: “If there is pain, there is no free flow; if there is free flow, there is no pain.” The goal with treatment is to clear the obstructions by inserting extremely thin, sterile needles into certain specific points on the body.
Study of Pain and Acupuncture
From a more scientific point of view, acupuncture has been shown to trigger the release of endorphins and enkephalins, chemicals with pain relieving properties. Other theories propose that acupuncture needles jam the neuronal pathways and prevent pain signals from reaching the brain. The World Health Organization (WHO), in its 2002 report entitled Acupuncture: Review and Analysis of Reports on Controlled Clinic Trials, stated that acupuncture “can be regarded as the method of choice for treating many chronically painful conditions.” This is not to say that acupuncture is a miracle cure for everyone. It is not. But it would be wise for all of us to become educated about available pain relief options, including non-drug options. Armed with this information, we can make informed decisions which are most suitable for our own unique situations.
Chronic Back Pain is one of the most common reasons people seek medical attention. It has been estimated that up to 80% of the world's population will suffer from back pain at some point in their lives, with the lower back as the most common location of pain.
Though most occurrences of back pain last less than two weeks, research has shown that recurrence rates for low back pain can reach as high as 50% in the first few months following the first episode.
Treating Back Pain with Acupuncture & TCM
By: John Lally Lic.AC.TCM, Clin.AC, Clinic Director
Why Use Acupuncture for Back Pain?
The use of acupuncture to treat back pain has increased dramatically in the past few decades, based to a large degree on placebo-controlled studies that have validated it as a reliable method of back pain relief. The results of a recent study published in the Clinical Journal of Pain provide further proof that acupuncture is a safe and effective treatment for low-back pain, and that acupuncture can maintain positive outcomes for periods exceeding six months or longer without producing the negative side-effects that often accompany more traditional pain remedies such as anti inflammatory steroids or pain medication.
TCM (Traditional Chinese Medicine) Definitions of Back Pain
Kidney Chi Deficiency
According to Traditional Chinese Medicine theory the Kidney and Bladder Acupuncture Meridian govern the back. When there is a deficiency in Kidney Yin or Kidney Yang this may have a negative effect on the Acupuncture channels on the posterior of the body resulting in weakness, stiffness and/or pain in the back.
Liver Chi Stagnation
The body’s Chi (Vital Energy) must flow freely for abundant health. In TCM the Liver organ governs the free flow of Chi in all areas of the body including the upper and lower back. Any impediment to the free flow of energy in the back will result in moderate pain and stiffness. As the Liver organ in TCM is closely associated with emotions such as stress, frustration and anger – we would often observe case histories where back pain is triggered or exacerbated by emotional triggers such as pre menstrual syndrome.
Blood Stagnation in the Lower Back
A severe form of Chi stagnation (above) blood stagnation or blood stasis in the lower back can result in severe stabbing pain on movement or rest. This is a result of long term Chi stagnation which eventually causes the flow of blood in the affected area to effectively become stuck. As in TCM theory the Chi (especially Liver Chi) moves blood in the acupuncture channels – any impediment to the free flow of Chi results in internal “friction” which almost often transforms into severe pain and stiffness. Blood stagnation in the lower back may form as a result of physical issues such as injury due to a fall, impact, exposure to cold wind or overwork and emotional issues such as long term stress.
Common Medical Causes of Back Pain
Lumbar Muscle Strain
Muscle strains are the most common cause of low back pain. Patients may or may not remember the initial event that triggered their muscle spasm, but the good news is that most episodes of back pain from muscle strains resolve completely within a few weeks.
A ruptured intervertebral disc, also called a herniated disc, is another common cause of back pain. How to treat the back pain from a herniated disc depends on the particular individual and situation.
Discogenic Back Pain
Discogenic back pain is thought to be a common cause of low back pain. Discogenic back pain cis the result of damage to the intervertabral disc, but without disc herniation. Diagnosis of discogenic back pain may require the use of a discogram.
Spinal stenosis causes back pain in the aging population. As we age, the spinal canal can become constricted, due in part to arthritis and other conditions. If the spinal canal becomes too tight, back pain can be the result.
Lumbar Spine Arthritis
Arthritis most commonly affects joints such as the knees and fingers. However, arthritis can affect any joint in the body, including the small joints of the spine. Arthritis of the spine can cause back pain with movement.
Spondylolisthesis causes back pain because adjacent vertebra become unstable and begin to “slip.” The most common cause of spondylolisthesis is due to degenerative changes causing loss of the normal stabilizing structures of the spinal column. If the spine becomes unstable enough, back pain can become a problem.