Acupuncture To Help Back Pain

Learn how this ancient healing process can help your back pain

| September/October 2002

By the time I began the study of acupuncture, in 1992, I had already been leading herb walks for twenty-four years. I wasn’t too sure if I really wanted to be sticking sharp needles in people, but the study of acupuncture was a requirement in California (and many other states) to obtain a license to practice Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM). In many states, this license gives similar legal status to physicians, allowing the practitioner to order medical tests for their patients, accept many kinds of insurance, and order worker’s compensation. Recently, the California legislature passed Senate Bill 341, and Governor Davis signed it into law. The bill more clearly defines the “scope of practice” for California practitioners of Oriental medicine and acupuncture, stating, in effect, that licensed practitioners can prescribe “nutrition, diet, herbs, plant, animal, and mineral products, and dietary supplements,” as well as “heat, cold, and magnets” to help prevent and reduce the symptoms and ailments of their patients. Other states have similar laws, and I expect the practice of Oriental medicine to make further headway in these states. Clearly, acupuncture has come a long way since the first demonstrations were performed in the United States in the early 1970s.

Studying acupuncture

When I went to China to study acupuncture and herbal medicine, I saw the insertion of needles used for the treatment of numerous symptoms and diseases, including cancer, gastritis, epilepsy, and all manner of pain syndromes, especially lower-back pain. Acupuncture is especially suited for the reduction of pain—it stimulates nerves, inducing a local immune response to promote healing and reduce inflammation, and interacts with pain and sensory nerves.

After studying with some fine acupuncturists and observing surprisingly good results in my clinical practice, I have come to the conclusion that acupuncture really works well for some conditions. I often combine acupuncture with electroacupuncture, moxibustion, hot and cold therapy, polarity therapy, and the application of herbal oils and compresses.

For most conditions, especially chronic ailments such as chronic fatigue syndrome, hepatitis C, or irritable bowel syndrome, I always combine the treatment with herbal formulas. The herbs work well with acupuncture to help direct the vital energy of the body where it is needed, or to relieve symptoms such as nausea or headaches by improving the health of internal organs.

Recent statistics show that one out of five adults in the United States will have lower-back pain at some point in their lives. Acupuncture is becoming a major treatment for back pain in many countries, and a recent meta-analysis of twelve controlled studies supports the effectiveness of acupuncture in the treatment of back pain.

I’d like to tell you about two particular patients I’ve had that came in with lower-back pain to illustrate how “excess” types and “deficiency” types are treated.

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