Nearly 8 out of every 10 people will have low back pain at some point in life. Back pain is one of the top reasons people seek medical treatment. It is also the No. 1 reported reason for seeking acupuncture. The good news is chronic low back pain is one of the conditions that research suggests acupuncture may be an effective tool for treating.
One recent review of 22 acupuncture studies showed that it provided short-term relief from chronic back pain. It also showed there was greater improvement in pain for people who got acupuncture.
Guidelines from the American Pain Society and American College of Physicians say doctors should consider acupuncture as an alternative therapy for patients with chronic low-back pain that’s not helped by conventional treatment.
How Acupuncture Appears to Help Back Pain
Acupuncture began in China more than 2,500 years ago. It involves inserting thin needles at certain points on the body. According to traditional Chinese medicine, the body has more than 2,000 of these points.They are connected by pathways or meridians, which create a flow of energy called Qi (pronounced “chee”). Stimulating these points is said to correct the imbalance of qi and improve the flow of energy. Practitioners believe that this helps relieve pain and improve health.
It’s thought the effects come from stimulating the central nervous system. This may trigger the release of chemicals into the muscles,spinal cord, and brain. These chemicals either alter the experience of pain or produce bodily changes that promote a sense of well-being.
Other theories suggest acupuncture works by:
Speeding the relay of electromagnetic signals. This may begin the flow of pain-killing chemicals such as endorphins. Or it may release immune system cells in the body.
Triggering the release of natural opioids. These are chemicals in the brain that may lessen pain or promote sleep.
Changing brain chemistry by altering the release of neurotransmitters and neuro-hormones. Neurotransmitters either stimulate or dampen nerve impulses. Neuro-hormones can affect the function or activity of an organ in the body.
Acupuncture Risks and Side Effects
When done by an experienced, trained acupuncturist, the procedure is generally safe. Serious side effects, such as infections or punctured organs, are rare. Also, acupuncture has fewer adverse side effects than many of the standard treatments for back pain.
WA Labor and Industries Acupuncture Pilot
In 2017, WA Labor and Industries began a two- year acupuncture pilot providing a structured environment for care delivery and capture of data that will inform future L&I payment and coverage methodology for acupuncture.
While the project is underway, the Department of Labor &Industries (L&I) will pay qualified providers participating in the pilot project to deliver acupuncture treatment to injured workers with low back pain related to an accepted condition on a workers’ compensation claim.
Treatment Must Focus on Functional Recovery and Return to Work
Under workers’ compensation insurance, acupuncture treatment must focus on helping occupationally injured and ill workers heal and return to work.
Pacific Rehabilitation Centers patients at our Everett clinic may receive acupuncture treatments through the separate practice of Dr. William Duarte, DAOM, Lac, EAMP.
American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons: “Aching backs get support from FDA, but not payors.”
University of Maryland Medical Center: “Study Analysis Shows Acupuncture Effective for Treating Chronic Low Back Pain.”
National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine: “Acupuncture for Pain.”
The University of Chicago Medical Center: “Acupuncture.”