Back pain is one of the most expensive and exhausting ailments of our time. It’s the 6th most costly condition in the United States, costing Americans at least 50 billion in health care costs each year (let alone the cost of missed work due to disability). It is the third most common reason for a visit to the doctor’s office (behind skin disorders and osteo-arthritis joint issues). For Acupuncturists, it is the #1 reason people show up at their door.
So, does it really work? For those that turn to acupuncture, they can rest assured they are increasing their odds of finding relief. Acupuncture has been found to be effective for chronic pain, including low back pain. Not only is acupuncture more clinically effective than no treatment at short-term follow-ups that looked at measures of pain relief and functional improvement acupuncture was actually found to be substantially better than standard care in a meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials that included around 20,000 patients with chronic musculoskeletal pain.
Acupuncture is also safe. In a cumulative review of more than 1 million acupuncture treatments, the risk of a serious adverse event with acupuncture was estimated to be 0.05 per 10,000 treatments and 0.55 per 10,000 individual patients.
So how does sticking needles in the various points in the body actually help to alleviate back pain? The explanation according to Acupuncture theory involves the movement of stuck energy (qi) and blood in the body. Points along various energy channels are used to open pathways and redirect ‘traffic’ to promote a healthy flow of qi and blood. Western biomedical research looks at acupuncture effects on the nervous, immune and endocrine systems. It has been shown that the stimulation with acupuncture needles produces an analgesic effect through the release of endorphins , dopamine, endogenous cannabinoids (some of the body’s natural pain-killers) and anti-inflammatory substances as well as the inhibition of pro-inflammatory factors.
Let’s look at some of the common problem areas:
We spend about one-third of our lives sleeping so it makes sense that how we sleep is going to have a huge impact on how we feel in our bodies. A major factor that can make or break our backs is our sleep position. The idea is to keep the spine in alignment by sleeping on your back or using a pillow between your legs. Sleeping on the wrong mattress is another common mistake. Finding the right one can be a challenge as there isn’t one type of mattress that’s best for everyone. The best mattress to keep your spine aligned depends on your body type, hip size etc., so shop around! The right mattress and sleeping position is crucial in keeping proper qi and blood flow in the body.
Let’s face it, modern day life has most of us sitting more than ever in history. Whether we are at a computer, commuting, or just sitting for long periods of time, the mechanics of too much sitting can increase muscle stiffness and put pressure on the discs of the spine. Simple standing stretches or short walks to break up these routines can get that qi and blood moving again and prevent further stagnation in the lower back.
Even if we aren’t living a sedentary lifestyle and are standing and moving more, we need to pay attention to our posture. For many of us, slouching is one of the hardest habits to break. It takes constant awareness to reset a hunched position to one with our shoulders back, chest lifted and our center of gravity stabilized. It’s a worthwhile effort though as it opens up our breathing, delivers oxygen to our cells and allows for a rejuvenating flow of qi and blood.
4) Lifting heavy items:
We’ve all heard the expression: “Lift with the knees, not with the back”, but when in a rush many of us make the near fatal mistake of bending at the waist to lift a heavy item and end up putting tremendous pressure on the lower spine and back muscles. Remember to pause, get help when needed, or use tools if necessary. Slow down and practice martial artist-like awareness when your body needs to maneuver with strength and stability.
5) The wrong shoes:
If your feet hurt at the end of the day, you should take a look at your shoes. Are they really supporting your feet? Do they fit right? You may even want to consider orthopedic shoes depending on your foot shape and how ‘on your feet’ you are from day to day. If our feet are not positioned right it can cause the hip and lower back to become misaligned.
Another reason this is important is because the kidney channel begins at the bottom of the foot and travels up the legs. We need to make sure that energy in that channel is not impeded as it is a direct source of low back support.
Bad nutritional habits that can directly affect our low backs include eating kidney depleting foods such as overly salted processed snacks and not drinking enough water. Overeating is another bad habit that can tax not just the kidney qi, but all organ systems and affect back muscles by pulling weight forward.
For additional assistance in changing unhealthy behaviors, moving qi and blood stagnation and supporting your kidneys for back pain relief and better overall health, get in for some re-balancing acupuncture treatments!