Acupuncture benefits by the insertion of tiny needles into certain points on the body, for the treatment of illness. It has been practised for over 2000 years in China, and is becoming ever more popular in the West. It is estimated that over one million treatments are given per year in the UK. Back pain is one of the most common conditions which acupuncture is used for: as an acupuncturist I treat many people with the condition.
The traditional explanation as to how acupuncture benefits lower back pain is that it unblocks the pathways of ‘qi’, or ‘vital energy’. Blockages may be caused by bad posture, stress, poor diet, or injury. Modern scanning techniques, using PET scanners, have shown that the acupuncture benefits the pathway channels along which sub atomic particles, called positrons, flow. The research has also shown that the insertion of acupuncture needles into certain points stimulates the pain control centres in the brain, blocking the pain signal. Acupuncture benefits have also been shown to release endorphins, chemicals which reduce pain.
In 2009 the Government’s health watchdog NICE (the National Institute for Clinical Excellence) published a report which looked at the evidence. It examined seven studies which had been done on low back pain. Treatments were given once or twice per week for between four and twelve weeks. The groups varied in size, some with several thousand participants. Some studies compared real acupuncture benefits with ‘sham’ acupuncture benefits, where the needles are deliberately placed in the wrong area.
The report concluded that ‘acupuncture needling is beneficial in reducing pain and improving function’ (p156). In other words, as well as reducing pain, acupuncture benefits by helping people get back to work, and get on with their lives.
The report also said that ‘an acupuncture benefits by costing less and is more effective than usual care’ (p156). The ‘usual care’ often consists of taking non–steroidal anti–inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs). However, these often cause serious side effects: listed by the NHS as indigestion and stomach ulcers. Long-term use can cause anaemia, gastro-intestinal bleeding, and the development of holes in the wall of the intestines.
This can allow toxins to enter the blood and create serious long term health problems. On the other hand, acupuncture benefits also by having positive side effects: patients often report improvements in sleep, mood, and energy. This is because acupuncture treats the whole person, not just the symptoms. Back pain is often a reflection of other imbalances in the body. For example, stress or exhaustion can lead to a build-up of cortisol in the blood, which can lead to inflammation and pain, and prevent the body healing damaged tissue. Acupuncture benefits have been shown to be effective in treating stress, and reducing cortisol levels, thereby reducing pain.
So, the evidence is clear: acupuncture can be an effective way to reduce back pain and improve mobility. Acupuncture benefits not only treat pain successfully, but also be efficient for many other complaints, and in helping regain vitality and health. An extra advantage of Naturopathic Acupuncture, which is not covered in the report, but which is taught at CNM, is that qualified practitioners are able to give advice on making dietary and lifestyle changes, which can maximise the beneficial effects of Acupuncture needling, and so help prevent further difficulties.
Author of article on Acupuncture benefits
This article was written by Henry McGrath, Acupuncturist at Enso Healing Rooms. To find out about Henry’s treatment click here