Acupuncture is best known for its ability to stop pain in general, but with 80% of the world’s population reporting back pain at least once in their lives, and chronic low back pain being the single highest category of scheduled doctor visits In the US, back pain is by far the most common reason for patients to seek help with Chinese medicine.
The main causes of back pain result from strains stemming from tears in muscles caused by sudden force, sprains resulting from overstretching one or more ligaments in the back, and herniated disks that slip out of their normal place between two vertebrae and put pressure on nerves. Back pain can be caused by accidents, injuries, poor posture, improper lifting weakening of supporting muscles and ligaments and degenerative changes. Though most commonly involving the lumbar region, back pain can also manifest elsewhere along the spine, including the neck area.
Another common form of back pain is sciatica, a term used to describe a nerve inflammation which typically originates in the lumbar spine and radiates into the buttock and leg sometimes all the way down to the toe area. Sciatica occurs when deteriorating or herniated spinal discs, and sometimes even the spine itself, push on the sciatic nerve. In some severe cases the nerve compression is due to spinal stenosis, or a narrowing of the spinal canal.
Muscle spasms are also a common cause of sciatica, most commonly the piriformis muscle. The sciatic nerve runs under or, in some people, through the piriformis muscle, located in the pelvis and connected to the bottom of the spine and the top of the femur, or thighbones. The piriformis muscle that tightens or starts to spasm can put pressure on the sciatic nerve causing pain as well as the radiating symptoms. A persistent spasm of the piriformis muscle is called piriformis syndrome, and can be caused by an injury, but is most often a result of having a desk job or leading sedentary lifestyle.
Due to acupuncture’s ability to boost the body’s natural healing mechanisms, inhibit negative pain cycles, and drastically reduce recovery time, the sooner you receive acupuncture In an acute situation involving back pain or sciatica, the better the results. If the pain keeps reoccurring or lingers more than 3 months it is considered chronic, and in the absence of a clearly determined cause it is recommended to receive a complete Western medical evaluation and diagnosis, including x-rays and MRIs to rule out medical emergencies, such as narrowing of the spine spinal tumors.
Whether acute or chronic, back pain and sciatica can almost always be improved with acupuncture and Chinese herbal therapy which can stimulate the release of natural endorphins that diminish the pain response, reduce local inflammation and swelling by increasing blood circulation, and relax muscle spasms. Recent studies have shown acupuncture to provide a natural, drug-free pain relief, significantly reduce recovery time, and achieve greater range of motion, better function, and improved quality of life, compared to conventional drug therapy.
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