by Qineng Tan, L.Ac., Ph.D.
That sudden, scary sensation of pulling in your lower back that lets you know you’re in for more pain later. The nagging, daily ache that develops over time. Lower back pain can really feel like a burden, holding you back from enjoying your life. If you are searching for how to reduce low back pain, Acupuncture and TCM can provide real relief.
Pain in the lower back is one of the most common complaints heard by healthcare practitioners. The vast majority (80%) of adults experience at least one episode of low back pain at some point in their lives. For some people, lower back pain becomes a chronic condition. It is the second most common cause of disability among adults in the United States.
This article will address the types and common causes of lower back pain, how to treat low back pain with acupuncture and TCM, and eight excellent suggestions for ways you can reduce low back pain and prevent flare-ups with lifestyle change and self care.
How to Treat Lower Back Pain – A Common but Complicated Condition
Lower back pain presents a challenge for physicians, because in many cases, there is no clearly discernible cause. Imaging scans may help us get a picture of structural damage to the spine, but they do not tell us the whole story. Pain is not just about structural or mechanical problems in the body. The problem may be mechanical, but it may also be chemical, emotional, behavioral, sociological, or a combination of any of these.
The American College of Physicians has just recently issued new guidelines regarding the treatment of lower back pain specifically advocating that doctors and patients first choose natural and alternative therapies, such as acupuncture and massage, over pain medications.
Acupuncture does not only address the immediate source of pain. TCM treats the whole person. An acupuncturist will study the different factors of each patient’s unique presentation of symptoms in making a diagnosis and designing a course of treatment. This will include not only acupuncture, but herbal formulae to support the healing of the body, and specific exercise and nutrition advice to strengthen the whole body from the inside. Lower back pain can take its toll on a person’s psychological outlook. Stress and depression can turn an acute problem into a chronic one. Treating the underlying causes of an acute condition can prevent it from becoming recurrent or chronic.
Types of Lower Back Pain
Most patients experience a generalized, nonspecific kind of lower back pain. These may be related to muscle strain or stiffness, repetitive movements or unfavorable sitting or sleeping positioning. Other conditions are based on specific injuries or pathologies. Some types of pain, such as sciatica, are rooted in the nerves, possibly due to pinching or other damage, and causing hip pain and pain that radiates down the leg. Sometimes the sensation is more like tingling or numbness than fiery pain.
In over 30 years of practice in treating all different types of lower back pain, we have often seen patients who had only minor structural problems but were experiencing severe pain. Many patients who have had surgery to correct a problem; their scans may show that the problem has been “fixed”–but they are still in a lot of pain. In other words, a person’s experience of pain or loss of mobility may not correspond to what we see in an image.
Common conditions leading to back pain include (but are not limited to):
- Degenerated disc
- Bulging or herniated disc
- Spinal stenosis
- Spondylolisthesis (slipped disc)
- Spinal scoliosis
- Muscle strain
- Muscle spasm
- Pinched nerves
- Nerve damage
- Kidney stones or gallstones
- Digestive issues (constipation
Eight Tips for Self Care to Reduce and Prevent Lower Back Pain
With TCM, we aim for long-term, lasting results. At the same time, we guide the patient in vital lifestyle improvements, such as regular de-stress meditation, gentle exercise such as Tai Chi or yoga, and an anti-inflammatory diet.
Here are some specific things you can do at home to help enhance the effects of acupuncture treatment and reduce lower back pain:
- Moderate exercise: walk, swim, Tai Chi, yoga, Pilates, and gentle stretching. It might be tempting to spend a lot of time in bed when you have back pain, but in most cases, lack of movement does more harm than good.
- Avoid lifting anything heavy; always remember to bend from the knees and not from the back when lifting any kind of weight. Forward bends as part of an exercise routine can also be aggravating.
- Weight control
- Anti-Inflammatory Diet: avoid coffee, spicy foods, nightshade vegetables (tomato, potato, eggplant and bell pepper). For more anti-inflammation information , read How to reduce and prevent inflammation
- Change posture during your work, move around for a few minutes every hour, at least.
- Cold and Heat: Use a cold compress for the first three days if there is an acute injury or any time right after exercise. Use heat 3-5 times per day for chronic pain.
- Make sure your mattress is medium firmness and comfortable.
- Do stretches and gentle strengthening exercises specifically for the lower back. Also work on strengthening all the core muscles. Remember that the lower part of the spine is actually in the center of the body. Using the abdominal muscles to help you move and lift things takes the strain off of the back muscles.
Acupressure for Low Back Pain
Using your opposite thumb or forefinger, locate the crevice between the bones of your 4th and 5th finger, just beneath the knuckles. Press deeply until you feel tenderness there. Hold the pressure while you gently but vigorously move and stretch your lower spine and hips. Then, drag your thumb or finger down, finding another crevice just above the base where the 4th and 5th metacarpal bones meet. Apply pressure, again, while wiggling and turning from the lower back. This will help release tension and tightness and relieve pain.
What Do I Do If the Above Does Not Work?
If you are in pain, and nothing has helped, you may be wondering how to find acupuncture near me. Look for an acupuncturist who is board certified in your state. A good acupuncturist is highly trained and has experience in integrative medicine, so that they can work with your primary physician if needed. At Art of Wellness, we suggest a first appointment should include an in-depth consultation and exam. Usually an acupuncturist will recommend a course of treatment that include sessions two or three times per week for the first few weeks, then will reevaluate to keep track of progress and improvement. Look for a place where you feel comfortable, listened to, and able to relax. Your acupuncturist will make recommendations for TCM herbal formulae and dietary changes that will help your condition. These may seem difficult to follow at first, but they will help your body heal better and more quickly. New healthy habits can help prevent your lower back pain from coming back.