Can Acupuncture Cure Chronic Back Pain?
I first looked into acupuncture after several months of chiropractic treatment had left my neck improved but my lower back not really any better, and in fact I was having quite a few days of acute pain. This article will document my experiences with this ancient treatment and hopefully it will be useful for those with chronic back pain who are considering alternative treatments.
It might be useful, before focussing on my personal experience to give a bit of background on this often misunderstood practice.
Acupuncture is an ancient Chinese medicine that dates from the second century, although there have been excavations that have found sharpened stones that are believed to be an even earlier practice of acupuncture. Essentially acupuncture, instead of using evidence-based and scientific-based study for the identification of pathogens and disease in the body, uses imbalances in an energy known as Qi. According to Chinese teaching, Qi flows around the body in channels called meridiens and where this flow is interrupted it can cause illness to set in.
It is believed that these imbalances of Qi flow are responsible for all manner of diseases. The question that I had was, given that it seemed I had a more structural problem, could acupuncture really help with the underlying problem or would it just be another means of pain relief.
So armed with this question I toddled off to my local Chinese medicine centre. As I tend to do for all the treatments I try, I did a bit of research on this particular clinic and they had been there since the early 1970s. Much like my reasoning when I was looking for a chiropractic clinic, I thought that if this place had not been helping people, they would have gone out if business long before now.
The clinic itself was run by a Chinese woman in her sixties who was the founder of the place. She asked a lot of questions about my lifestyle, working habits etc. She also spent quite a long time examining my pulse. This, I leaned later is a very common diagnostic tool that acupuncturists use. The contention is that there are twelve different pulses that can be measured along the radial artery and these pulses correspond to the twelve major organs of the body. The pulses are said to either be superficial, ie, near the surface and deep. I asked the doctor how she was able to glean information from all these different pulses and how she was able to differentiate in the first place. She just smiled and said it took many years of study.
Her diagnosis was that the muscles of my lower back were overworked trying to compensate for years of bad posture and this was causing me the back pain. She said that acupuncture would definitely help in that it would release the blockages of the meridiens allowing the Qi to flow properly and therefore allow the muscles to relax. She did also point out that I needed to also look into my lifestyle as that is where the long-term benefits would come from. Given how sore my back was at this point I just nodded and told her to break out the needles!
So the next step was to head into the treatment room. I must admit I was expecting a single room, however I was greeted by what looked like a small hospital ward. There were 10 beds in the room all partitioned off by those curtains you see around hospital beds. It was also clear that at least half of the beds were occupied. When I asked her she just laughed and said that yes, there are lots of people with chronic pain and she has a lot of word-of-mouth business. So I stripped to the waist and prepared to join the apparent hoards in my area all being stuck with needles for one ailment or another. As I lay face down on the bed I wondered how many years ago this doctor had paid off her mortgage.
The swish of the curtains announced the arrival of the accu doc and she wasted no time going about her business. The sensation of acupuncture needles going in is hard to describe. It doesn’t hurt per se but it is a sort of scratchy feeling. In any event I counted at least twelve needles going in various locations in my lower back. Then I felt each needle wobble and tug a bit. Upon enquiring into what she was up to now, I was informed that she was hooking the needles up to a battery. This, she explained would send pulses into the needles and give a more profound effect. She assured me we would start off at a low setting and gradually build up. Soon after a felt an extremely strange sensation as the power was turned on. All the muscles in my lower back started to contract and relax in a not completely pleasant way. Judging by the groans and hisses of breath coming from the cubicle next to mine I inferred some other unfortunate soul was getting the same treatment.
I lay there for about twenty minutes in total. The pulses in my back ebbed and flowed, sometimes horrible and sometimes almost exquisite. It was easily the strangest twenty minutes of my life and that includes a life that had recently included traction!
When the doctor came to take the needles out it was a blessed relief I can tell you. Moreover, oddly enough as it may seem the needles hurt more coming out than going in. I was then instructed to get dressed and meet the doctor back in her office. Still somewhat in a state of shock I swung off the bed and put on my shirt. I was immediately hit by the amazing fact that all the pain in my lower back had completely gone. Not just been relieved, totally, one hundred percent gone. I floated out of the treatment room and into the doctor’s office grinning like the Cheshire Cat. I slid into the chair like a blob of mercury sliding over a glass table.
When I, in a rather speechless manner tried to describe how much better my back was, I was soon put right on the matter. She told me that yes, acupuncture can have a profound effect but I could not expect a cure over night. She went on to explain that I would likely start to feel sore again over the next few days and that the healing process would be gradual and would again rely on me making changes to my lifestyle. To be honest, I could not have cared less, such was my euphoria at what she had done for me with a few needles and a battery.
Several days later, the pain did indeed return and I went back for anther session. Again, the result was the same. Total freedom from back pain. This went on twice a week for about 8 weeks and each time when the pain returned it was always less than the previous visit. At the end of the eight weeks the doctor told me that I had had enough treatment for now and that I should go away and work on my posture and a few simple back strengthening exercises that she gave me. If things reverted to there previous, acute state I was to come back and see her.
I have not been back for more acupuncture as my pain has not returned to the acute levels it had got to. So did acupuncture cure my chronic bad back? No, however it did provide immense relief from acute pain and I am certain it left my back in a much healthier state as I never have those acute pain episodes any longer. I would whole-heartedly recommend people find a good acupuncturist and give it a try for helping with back pain.
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About the author
Patrick Jones writes about his personal journey to beat back pain at www.backpainbegone.info where you can get his free weekly newsletter.