If you’ve never had back pain, you’re the exception to the rule. About 80 percent of people in the United States will suffer from back pain at some time in their lives.
I’ve certainly had my share of back pain episodes, caused by stupid moves like twisting and reaching for soap in the shower or lifting a box that was way too heavy. Fortunately, my brushes with back pain have been minor; I’ve never been laid out and unable to move. And I know exactly what I did to cause my back to act up.
Unfortunately, many people who suffer from back pain have no idea why their back hurts. They didn’t overdo it or lift something they shouldn’t have. In many cases, especially back pain that seems to come out of nowhere, your spinal discs may be to blame.
Discs are your spine’s shock absorbers. They’re rubbery rings made of collagen filled with a gel center that is found between each of your vertebrae, the bones in your spine. Discs compress and absorb energy when you walk, twist, turn, or bend to protect your spine and act as a cushion between the bones.
Your discs replenish themselves, but over time, and with day-to-day wear and tear, they degenerate. Discs can rupture, collapse, or bulge out to the side, which can be very painful. A ruptured or bulging disc can cause compression of the nerves in the area, resulting in shooting pain down your arm or leg, depending on the vertebrae affected. Disc problems can also cause back pain in the form of muscle spasms, which are your body’s very painful way of limiting movement while the area heals. You may also experience swelling and inflammation with a disc problem.
The pain associated with disc trouble can resolve in a month or two, or may last years. Interestingly, some people don’t feel any pain at all when a disc ruptures or bulges, however, they’re in the minority. Your doctor may prescribe physical therapy, analgesics, and rest for your disc-related back pain. In severe or chronic cases, they may recommend fusion surgery, in which the vertebral bones are fused together. The merged bones can no longer move, but this surgery decompresses entrapped nerves to relieve pain.
Many people with back pain have turned to acupuncture after trying a number of medications or treatments that haven’t helped their pain. The research supports their decision. A number of high-quality research studies have documented that acupuncture can relieve several types of chronic pain, including back pain. In Chinese medicine, your back pain would likely be diagnosed as a blockage of energy and blood. This simply means that circulation is hampered in the area, some nerves may be compressed, your muscles may be contracted and in spasm, and inflammation and swelling are limiting your movement.
Acupuncture can help relieve your back pain in a number of ways. It stimulates your central nervous system to block the pain signals traveling to your brain and it releases endorphins, which are opioid-like neurotransmitters that help relieve your pain. Acupuncture increases circulation in the area and decreases inflammation locally where the needles have been placed. Acupuncture also helps to increase circulation, loosen tight muscles, and helps you relax.
Chances are that at some time or another you’ll experience back pain, and chances are it will be caused by the degeneration of a disc. Acupuncture can be a good choice for relieving pain and speeding up the recovery process, whether in tandem with other therapies or as a stand-alone treatment.
Lynn Jaffee is a licensed acupuncturist and the author of “Simple Steps: The Chinese Way to Better Health.” This article was originally published on AcupunctureTwinCities.com