Published on May 21st, 2018 | by Catherine Tingey0
Treating Low Back Pain with Traditional Chinese Medicine
Treating Low Back Pain with Traditional Chinese Medicine
Any discussion of pain management would be incomplete without mentioning acupuncture. I’m a big believer in Traditional Chinese Medicine and today’s blog was written by acupuncturist, Kristel Hart. I’ve been a patient of hers and she has a soothing bedside manner and is very thorough in her treatment approach. She practices at TCM Healing Center and I can’t recommend her highly enough.
By Kristel Hart, L.Ac., Dipl. OM, DAOM candidate
Back pain is the number one reason that people go to see doctors. Whether it is acute or chronic pain, the majority of Americans will be affected by this condition at some point in their lives. Knowing how to effectively treat back pain is paramount not only in alleviating pain and discomfort, but also for prevention of it becoming a chronic complaint.
I suffered with low back pain and sciatica from a car accident years ago. I did not want to take medications or have surgery knowing the associated risks. Instead, I chose to explore different treatment options. I’m very fortunate to have come across acupuncture because it cured my back pain and I never had to undergo any invasive treatments! In fact, I was so inspired by Chinese Medicine, that I decided to learn more about it so I could share it with others.
With the limited treatment options that conventional medicine have to offer, it’s no wonder that more and more people are turning to alternative healing solutions. Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) has been around for thousands of years and has withstood the test of time for one reason: it works!
The World Health Organization recognizes acupuncture as an effective treatment for over 100 conditions including back pain and sciatica. With over 24,000 research studies documenting acupuncture’s ability to alleviate pain, this medicine is starting to receive the much due credit it deserves. Physicians are starting to recommend patients to try acupuncture and some are even learning to practice it themselves!
There are many causes of back pain: torn or tight muscles, arthritis, herniated discs, pinched nerve, car accident, falls, spinal stenosis, etc. Can acupuncture treat any kind of back pain? The answer is yes in most cases. If the pain is neuropathic meaning it is nerve based, which is the case for 90%, then acupuncture can alleviate the pain as it works via the nervous system. However, if there is a structural impingement such as a bone spur digging into a nerve, no amount of acupuncture needles will be able to correct that. It may help manage pain, but surgery may be the only option in this case. Post-operation, acupuncture can effectively speed up the healing process and minimize pain.
I think the great mystery that faces this medicine is not if it works because that has been more than well established, but rather HOW it works. Acupuncture releases endogenous painkillers called enkephalins that are six to ten times stronger than morphine! Since your body produces these natural painkillers, there are no side effects. Acupuncture increases circulation to areas where there is not enough by constricting and dilating blood vessels as a result of histamine release.
Additionally, acupuncture retrains the brain to maintain circulation to the needed areas. Increasing blood flow to damaged tendons, ligaments and tissues speeds up the healing process. It can also reduce inflammation and break up scar tissue. In summary, acupuncture gives instant relief thanks to the release of enkephalins. Long term relief is achieved by reprogramming the brain to increase and maintain circulation in order to expedite and assist the body’s own healing process.
Cupping is a great adjunct in treating back pain. Heating up glass cups and applying them to the body creates a vacuum that gently pulls the skin inside the cup. Think the reverse of a deep tissue massage. Increasing blood flow to the area of pain or injury helps to oxygenate the cells and tissues and flush out lactic acid build up commonly associated with muscle aches and soreness. Applying liniments or oil to the back allows the practitioner to move the cups, which can release the myofascial layer and can affect up to four inches below the skin surface. It stimulates the lymphatic system and helps the body to detoxify. Cupping sedates the nervous system and is very relaxing.
An integral part of treating back pain with TCM is using herbal medicine. In many cases herbal medicine can be just as effective if not better than pharmaceuticals and without the side effects. Did you know that many pharmaceuticals come originally from a botanical source? You could take an herbal version of many of the medications you have been prescribed and skip the side effects. For example, aspirin comes from willow bark. Taking Non Steroidal Anti-inflammatory Drugs that contain acetaminophen such as: Motrin, Tylenol, Naproxen or Aleve can cause intestinal bleeding and ulcers as well as liver damage. Why not take an herbal anti-inflammatory? Not only can Chinese herbal medicine reduce inflammation in the treatment of back pain, but can also increase blood flow, alleviate pain and facilitate healing. Coupled with acupuncture these two modalities have a synergistic effect in healing back pain.
Traditional Chinese Medicine can reduce any pain, whether back or anywhere in the body, which is aggravated by stress. TCM effectively aids in stress management by directly affecting the Hypothalamic Pituitary Adrenal (HPA) axis. It helps to restore homeostasis by down regulating the sympathetic (stress) response associated with adrenal up regulation. Central nervous system dysregulation can affect other systems such as digestion, reproduction, circulation, immunity and inflammation. Reducing stress via the HPA axis, think “reset,” can therefore benefit any of the aforementioned systems, which have been affected. Not only will pain be improved, but the body can regain normal function of digestion, sleep and reproduction.
The next time you experience back pain, why don’t you visit your nearest acupuncturist first? Often an acute injury can be resolved in one or two treatments, whereas more chronic conditions generally require a course of several treatments.
TCM Healing Center
12304 Santa Monica Blvd. Ste. 120
Los Angeles, CA 90025