Treating Back Pain With Acupuncture
This alternative approach may work for you.

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Treating Back Pain With Acupuncture

Low back pain is one of the most common reasons Americans miss work each year. While most low back pain goes away after a few days, sometimes it takes a few weeks to ease up. Back pain that lasts for more than three months is called chronic pain.

Whether your pain lasts a short while or is chronic, you'll likely need to talk with your doctor to find out the cause. He or she can also help advise you on what to do for pain relief or additional evaluation and treatment.

Acupuncture for pain
As alternative medicine becomes more popular, many people are turning to acupuncture for pain relief. Practiced in China and other Asian countries for thousands of years, this technique uses needles to stimulate points on the body. The needles are sterile, disposable and hair-thin. The procedure is generally safe and painless if done properly.

Back pain is the most common reason people seek acupuncture. Several recent studies report that acupuncture may help with both short-term and chronic low back pain. The National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine says more evidence is needed, though, and research is ongoing. Also, clinical studies comparing the effectiveness of acupuncture for back pain to more conventional treatments are ongoing.

How does it work?
Several theories exist about why acupuncture works. From the Chinese perspective, acupuncture regulates the body's flow of vital energy, or "qi," along pathways called meridians.

From a more Western viewpoint, the tiny acupuncture needles may stimulate nerves, connective tissue and muscles. This stimulation seems to activate the body's natural pain-relieving chemicals.

Finding an acupuncturist
First, you'll likely want to find out if acupuncture is covered by your insurance. Next, talk to your doctor about acupuncture for your low back pain. He or she may be able to suggest an acupuncturist in your area. Some conventional medical doctors are also trained in acupuncture. Be sure to choose a practitioner who is licensed to practice acupuncture in your state.

Finding more pain relief
Most low back pain can be treated without surgery. Besides acupuncture, other options for back pain relief may include:

  • Cold and hot compresses
  • Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (like aspirin or ibuprofen)
  • Exercise
  • Physical therapy
  • Chiropractic treatment

Talk to your doctor to learn more.

By Lucy M. Casale, Editor
Created on 06/13/2000
Updated on 04/25/2014
  • National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine. Acupuncture for pain.
  • National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke. Low back pain fact sheet.
  • National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine. Acupuncture: An introduction.
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