Acupuncture Addresses the Root Cause of Back Pain: Part 1

Back pain is one of the most common reasons patients come to see me. Fortunately acupuncture addresses the root cause of back pain. Even in cases where back pain isn’t what brings someone in the door, it’s often a secondary complaint. Back pain is at least part of the equation in 90-95 percent of people I see in my practice.


[Back pain affects at least 80% of us some time in our lives, perhaps 20-30% of us at any given time.]

Fortunately, acupuncture is an extremely effective solution for back pain. By addressing the underlying cause of back pain—opposed to temporarily alleviating the symptom, the way drugs do—acupuncture is able to eradicate back pain completely so that it doesn’t return.

With so many people dealing with back pain, I get a lot of questions about it. In part one of this Q&A series, I answer questions about where back pain comes from and how acupuncture can help.

Why is back pain so common among busy city dwellers?

By the time most of us get into our thirties, forties, and fifties, old injuries start showing up. Sports injuries, childbirth, pelvic pain, trauma—even if you experienced these things early in life, they can manifest as back pain as you age.

Work and exercise habits are big contributors to back pain as well. Many people have jobs that require sitting all day. It’s common for people to squeeze in an hour of rigorous exercise to help counteract the sitting. While this is well intentioned, it can be problematic to go from being sedentary to working out rigorously—a lot of injuries and strains happen this way, including back pain.

Being stressed out doesn’t help either. When we’re stressed, our bodies don’t get that deeper level of rest that’s required to heal from injuries or just recover from the strain our bodies experience through daily living. Stress keeps the autonomic nervous system in fight-or-flight (sympathetic) mode, causing contraction of the back muscles and a slew of other issues that can lead to back pain.

What is back pain from a Chinese medical standpoint?

In Chinese medicine, the low back is considered the house of the Kidneys. The Kidneys are where your fire—your will and your drive—come from. The amount of reserve in our Kidney tanks is partly constitutional and partly determined by lifestyle. Overworking and being chronically stressed depletes the Kidney energy, weakening the defenses against Kidney imbalances that can lead to symptoms such as back pain.

Acupuncture also looks at back pain from a meridian perspective. The Kidney’s paired meridian is the Bladder meridian, which runs along the entire back. The two have an internal-external relationship, with the Kidney being more internal and the Bladder more external. When the internal (your inner fire) gets depleted, the external (your back) gets strained.

How does acupuncture address back pain differently than medication?

Taking drugs will reduce inflammation and pain in the short term. But in most cases, the underlying trigger of back pain is physiological as well as emotional, neurological, spiritual, and energetic. With drugs, you’re just addressing one piece of the puzzle, while acupuncture addresses the whole picture. It taps into a deeper level.

In situations where back pain keeps returning or not completely gone , it means the body is not functioning in its healing capacity. Naturally, humanbody seeks a state of homeostasis—moving to be in balance and optimal health. When that’s not happening, it’s because the nervous system is not switching over to rest-and-digest (parasympathetic) mode. When we don’t allow our body to fully power down, it can’t heal itself. Acupuncture stimulates the nervous system to go into rest-and-digest mode to allow healing to take place. This is considered chronic.

Acute back pain, acupuncture works by reduces inflammation and triggering circulation and muscle relaxation. Unlike massage, which puts a lot of pressure on the painful area, acupuncture needles penetrate to the level where the strain is coming from. Usually this is not limited to the painful part of the back. There tends to be a cascade effect that happens with back pain, with hamstrings, shoulders, and other muscles getting contracted as a result of the back issue. Acupuncture addresses this by treating the root cause of the back pain, which helps all areas let go.

Will I experience any other benefits when I get acupuncture for back pain?

Consistent acupuncture can help you sleep better, feel more energetic, and experience lighter moods and less painful periods. Many people come to acupuncture for back pain without realizing that there are other things going on. I do a thorough intake in order to understand each patient’s complete picture of health. When I check in on secondary complaints that came up in our initial visit, patients usually respond with, “Now that you mention it, that has been a lot better too!”

Stay tuned for part two of this Q&A series on back pain, where I answer some practical questions about coming in for treatment.