April 29, 2014

Acupuncture as a treatment for back pain

Acupuncture as a treatment for back pain

Most people will suffer from back pain at some point in their lives, it’s the UK’s leading cause of disability and one of the main reasons for work-related sickness absence in the UK affecting more than 1.1 million people in the UK, with 95% of patients suffering from problems affecting the lower back costing the NHS and community care services more than £1 billion each year*.

Most lower back pain is caused not by serious damage or disease, but by sprains, muscle strains, minor injuries, or a pinched or irritated nerve. It can also occur during pregnancy, or because of stress, viral infection or a kidney infection.

Can acupuncture can help?

Research has demonstrated that acupuncture is significantly better than no treatment and at least as good as (if not better than) standard medical care for back pain.  Acupuncture appears to be particularly useful as an addition to conventional care especially in  patients with more severe symptoms and for those wishing to avoid analgesic or pain management drugs. There is some evidece to suggest that it may help back pain in pregnancy and I have certainly seen evidence within my clinic to substantiate this.

Acupuncture can help back pain by:

  • Providing pain relief – by stimulating nerves located in muscles and other tissues, acupuncture leads to release of endorphins and other neurohumoral factors and changes the processing of pain in the brain and spinal cord
  • Reducing inflammation – by promoting release of vascular and immunomodulatory factors
  • Improving muscle stiffness and joint mobility – by increasing local microcirculation, which aids dispersal of swelling and bruising.
  • Reducing the use of medication for back complaints
  • Providing a more cost-effective treatment over a longer period of time
  • Improving the outcome when added to conventional treatments such as rehabilitation exercises
  • The National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence guidelines on best practice now recommend that GPs offer a course of 10 sessions of acupuncture as a first line treatment for persistent, non-specific low back pain*

*National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence clinical guideline 88 – Low back pain. www.nice.org.uk/CG88

Here are some articles on this subject:

There was an interesting article in the British Medical Journal (BMJ) regarding acupuncture for lower back pain, you can read the full article here.

National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) – Effectiveness of acupuncture and standard care for pregnant women with lower back pain