Is Acupuncture Good for Back Pain?

Breeze Academy May 22, 2023
Woman in white top and denim shorts holding lower back

Acupuncture is known for its ability to treat a wide range of musculoskeletal conditions. But how does it fare with back pain? In this article, we take a look at the research into Acupuncture for back pain to determine its efficacy. We’ll also look at some of the most common Acupuncture points for back pain and contraindications to be aware of.

So, is Acupuncture good for back pain? Evidence suggests that Acupuncture is good for back pain and may be more effective than standard treatment. However, some research states that it should be used in conjunction with other treatments for best results. 

Read on to learn more about Acupuncture for back pain as well as an introduction into a number of common Acupuncture points for back pain.

Does Acupuncture Work for Back Pain?

Back pain is reportedly the number one reason for seeking Acupuncture. Thankfully, it is one of the conditions that research suggests Acupuncture may be effective in treating

A recent review of studies found that Acupuncture provides short-term relief from back pain and that it may be more effective than standard treatment. However, many experts recommend Acupuncture for back pain in conjunction with other treatments for longer-term results.

 Additionally, a 2021 study concluded that Acupuncture is “effective, scientific, cost-effective and free from major side effects”. The researchers reference a meta-analysis of just under 18,000 patients, 90% of the pain-relieving benefits of Acupuncture were sustained 12 months post-treatment. 

Back Conditions Acupuncture Can Help

Back pain can be caused by a wide range of conditions of which Acupuncture may be able to help reduce pain levels. These include:

  • Chronic Lower Back Pain
  • Sciatica
  • Disc Herniations
  • Stenosis
  • Spondylolisthesis
  • Spondylosis
  • Facet Syndrome
  • Degenerative Disk Disease

How it Helps

Whether it’s Acupuncture for lower back pain, chronic pain or another condition, researchers explain that it works via stimulation which releases endorphins and other neurohumoral factors. This, in turn, leads to changes in processing between the brain and the spinal cord.

Acupuncture is also thought to increase blood circulation and reduce inflammation by promoting the release of vascular- and immunomodulatory factors. In turn, this ensures that oxygen and essential nutrients reach the affected area as well as:

  • Supporting joint movement
  • Relieving stiffness of muscles
  • Healing swelling and bruising

How Many Sessions of Acupuncture are Needed for Back Pain?

It is recommended to have Acupuncture twice weekly for several weeks in the initial stages of treatment. If and when the back pain improves, appointments can be reduced to once per week to maintain the results. 

Are Acupuncture Results Immediate?

Some patients will see results immediately after their first treatment. This does not mean that they are “cured”. In fact, it is likely that these results are incredibly short-term. For most people, it can take a while for results to manifest. 

How Long Does it Acupuncture to Work for Back Pain?

It can take 6-8 weeks to begin seeing results and reduced pain levels. However, it typically takes 10-12 weeks to see lasting results. In some cases, pain may return, in which regular maintenance appointments may be necessary.

Acupuncture Points for Back Pain and Lower Back Pain

For Acupuncture to work on back pain, particular Acupuncture points must be used. According to Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), these include:

The Stomach Point

Located approximately two fingers from the navel, the stomach point helps to strengthen the abdominal muscles. In turn, this helps to reduce or eliminate back pain. It may also help to prevent back problems.

The Lower Back Point

Acupuncture at the lower back point offers effective pain relief from lower back pain as well as sciatica. It can be found between the second and third vertebrae from the bottom of the spine.

Hip bone Points

The hip bone points are located approximately two fingers from the bony area at the bottom of the spine, midway between the top of the hip bone and the base of the buttocks.

These points are reported to help relieve back pain, hip pain, sciatica and pelvic stress.

Back of the Knee Points

Applying firm pressure to Acupuncture points at the back of the knee is reportedly an effective method for reducing stiffness in the back and sciatica, as well as knee and hip pain.

These points are located at the centre of the back of the knee.

Hand Points

The hand point is directly connected to stress and stiffness in the back. As such, performing Acupuncture here may reduce stiffness in the back, helping to relieve pain and discomfort. 

This Acupoint is located between the thumb and index finger.

Acupuncture for Back Pain: Risks and Contraindications

Whilst evidence suggests that Acupuncture for back pain is effective, it’s not suitable for everyone. On the whole, Acupuncture has very few, mild side effects but there are a few groups of people that, medically, are at a higher risk of a negative outcome. 

Absolute Contraindications

Those with absolute contraindications should only undergo Acupuncture with the approval of their Doctor. Such contraindications include:

  • Use of particular meridians on pregnant women
  • Use of acupuncture on clients with uncontrollable movements
  • Use of acupuncture on clients with spinal instability
  • The needling of scars, keloid, recent wounds, or skin with sensory deficit
  • Use of acupuncture on clients with blood disorders, or those on anticoagulant medication
  • Use of acupuncture on clients with a pacemaker

Other (Relative) Contraindications

Relative contraindications are lower-risk than absolute contraindications. However, they still pose a risk and should be considered on a case-by-case basis by the practitioner. In some cases, a GP consultation may still be necessary.

  • Clients that have had an acute stroke
  • Clients with cancer
  • Clients with skin conditions
  • Clients with diabetes
  • Clients with epilepsy
  • Clients with imuno-suppression
  • Clients with an unclear medical diagnosis
  • Clients with an abnormal physical structure
  • Those that will be driving after treatment

Learn more about Acupuncture and its safety in our recent blog, Is Acupuncture Safe?

Final Thoughts

Research suggests that Acupuncture for back pain is effective, perhaps even more so than standard treatment. However, it may not be effective as a sole treatment. To truly reap the benefits of the treatment, it should be used in conjunction with other interventions.

If you’re a healthcare professional interested in providing alternative treatment options for a range of back pain and other musculoskeletal conditions, take a look at our foundation level Acupuncture courses today. Our courses are available across the UK and provide you with everything you need to safely, confidently and effectively use Acupuncture.

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