Low Back Pain Treatment with Acupuncture and Chinese Medicine

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Most of us, up to 85% of the population, will suffer from low back pain at some point of our lives and it is the second biggest complaint that doctors hear. Back pain can be debilitating to one’s livelihood resulting in missed work or just missing enjoyable activities. The good news is that acupuncture is extremely effective for low back pain treatment.

Acupuncture is a tremendous alternative and very effective low back pain treatment that has been around for more than 2000 years.  This method includes the insertion of small, sterile, one-time use needles to stimulate the flow of the body’s qi, or life-force of energy, that flows through the body. According to Chinese medicine, back pain is usually caused by one of two things. Either there is a deficiency in the kidney meridian or there is qi and blood stagnation.


The first cause of back pain can be due to kidney yin or yang deficiency. This does not mean that there is something wrong with one’s kidneys; it just means that energetically the kidney system in the body is out of balance. When the balance of yin and yang in the kidneys is disrupted, pathological changes occur.

For instance, if one has kidney yin deficiency their symptoms include: soreness and weakness of the lower back and/or knees, dizziness, tinnitus, hearing problems, a dry mouth or throat, a hot sensation in the palms, chest, and soles of the feet, night sweats or hot flashes, possible afternoon fever, and constipation.

If one has kidney yang deficiency their symptoms include: soreness and weakness of the lower back and/or knees, aversion to cold, cold limbs, diarrhea, frequent urination, fatigue, low libido, edema, enuresis, and in more severe cases incontinence, infertility, or impotence.

The way that kidney qi deficiency would be treated would be a two-step approach. Acupuncture is beneficial as specific points are chosen and are specifically tailored to each individual. Herbal medications would also be prescribed to support and strengthen the kidney’s energetic system in the body and this happens over time. Together in conjunction, the results are powerful. Diet and lifestyle changes may also be suggested so that there is an overall holistic approach to healing the back.


The other cause of low back pain can be due to local qi and blood stagnation. Tenderness upon palpation anywhere in the back signifies that there is a blockage of qi and blood in that area. If there is qi stagnation causing pain the pain will usually be distending or will move around. Pain that is caused by blood stagnation is sharper and stabbing. Both types can coexist, however. Pain that is due to qi and blood stagnation can be caused by overuse in that area of the body, or trauma, a fall, or a car accident. The way acupuncture helps this is that the insertion of these tiny needles at the site of tenderness or pain unblocks the stagnation of qi in that area so that it can move freely. Once the qi is moving freely it will also free up the stagnation of blood thus relieving the pain.

Cupping Therapy

Cupping is a modality that is used in low back pain treatment, particularly when it is due to local qi and blood stagnation. Cupping involves inserting a small fire into a glass cup which creates a vacuum. The cup is immediately placed on the back which pulls the muscles and tissues into the cup. This suction draws the stagnant blood to the surface of the body which helps to relax stiff and tight muscles in that local area. Depending on how much stagnation is in the area, you may have what looks like a bruise in that area but within several days it should clear up. How long it takes to clear up depends on how much blood is stagnated in that area. It’s not painful and when the cups are moved around on the back it can actually feel really good like a massage.

By Amanda Carter
Board Certified Acupuncture Physician and Doctor of Oriental Medicine