Can acupuncture treatment help my chronic low back pain?

Greetings KRJ,

Well, that is a remarkable story of perseverance and strength of character that you displayed as a young man.  Congratulations to you for growing beyond the artificial limitations that an unfortunate accident put in front of you.  It is easy to understand your interest in acupuncture treatment

Yes, I firmly believe there is a strong possibility you can get some level of help from your constant pain and ongoing musculoskeletal problems by using acupuncture treatment.  After all these years you can assume that you have a fairly well developed case of arthritis going on in your low back and acupuncture is great for low back pain and arthritis.   

It is important that you keep in mind that there are countless styles and methods of performing acupuncture.   While anyone who uses a particular method of acupuncture treatment will think and feel that it was the best one available, it is results that count at the end of the day.  All acupuncture systems have elaborate theories to explain why they are effective, even if they sometimes are convoluted and require a deep understanding and acceptance of Eastern philosophy that is not familiar in the West. 

For several years I taught acupuncture on the post-graduate level to medical doctors, osteopaths, chiropractors, dentists and veterinarians from all over the world. During that time I could not help but remain a student of Asian healing and acupuncture theory as I researched many different approaches to this method of healing.  They were all interesting and most got good results, and some people were able to get better results with the same method or technique than other people, indicating that there was more going on in the treatment process than the mere physical method of inserting needles.  

To begin with, acupuncture is only a part of a larger 5,000 year-old oriental healing tradition.  Today it is usually performed by inserting fine stainless steel needles into stimulate specific points on the surface of the body.  The acupuncture system of treatment is usually explained by asserting that the presence of the needle, or other stimulus, inserted into the skin modifies the flow of an innate energy (chi or qi) in the body that works to increase, decrease or in some way modify that flow of energy which assists the natural tendency of the living body to  heal from within. From ancient times to today every significant culture has used a form or variation of acupuncture treatment.  

There are two popular theories that explain how acupuncture works:

1. Ancient theory – In the Eastern countries for centuries they have maintained that there is a life force of energy, called “chi” or “qi” (pronounced “chee”), that flows along specific pathways on the skin surface aw well as internally, called meridians. This chi energy is different from the energy that is found within the nerve system or the energy that animates the heart, brain and other vital organs.  It is not electrical in nature, although it does share some similar properties.  Like magnetic energy that can pass through a solid object, chi energy travels over, in, out and around the body to all reach all organs and tissues.  The ancients said that to maintain health chi must be balanced and move freely. Acupuncture treatment is used to move, increase or decrease chi energy if it has become imbalanced or  stagnant.   The fundamental goal of acupuncture treatment is to correct an imbalance of chi, thus assisting a healing response of the tissue.

2. Modern theory – In the Western world it has been known for several decades now that the brain produces certain chemicals, called endorphins and encephalins that are messengers are used to start, stop and modify many natural reactions within the body such as healing and pain reduction.  Perhaps 10-15 years ago it was discovered that the insertion of a thin acupuncture needle into a special point on a meridian of chi energy will start an endorphin or encephalin release in the brain that will increase the healing reaction of the body.  The ancient Chinese may have stumbled on a simple way to start a complicated process they did not know even existed.

Regardless of the acupuncture explanation you think is correct this method of disease treatment and pain control has stood the test of time, by being used billions of times over the last 4,000 years.  Acupuncture continues to be used because it continues to satisfy a need for health care that is not being filled by other methods.

Acupuncture’s use and approval in the West during the 1970s has sparked controversy until reasonable scientific explanations were offered, even though it has been used for millennia in the East.  In 1977 the National Institute of Health (NIH) concluded a consensus opinion statement by stating, “…there is sufficient evidence of acupuncture’s value to expand its use into conventional medicine and to encourage further studies of its physiology and clinical value.”  This statement referred to scientific proof that stimulation of an acupuncture point results in release of endorphins and encephalins, the chemical messengers that regulate a healing response.   With this discovery acupuncture became acceptable in many areas and at all levels of the Western medical community. Further, the NIH statement noted “the data in support of acupuncture are as strong as those for many accepted Western medical therapies,” and added that “the incidence of adverse effects is substantially lower than that of many drugs or other accepted medical procedures used for the same condition.”  Today acupuncture is offered as a primary or secondary treatment method in hospitals and clinics throughout the United States. 

However, acupuncture is not one thing and it is not delivered using just one method of application.  Within hundreds of styles of acupuncture practice many ways of stimulating acupuncture points are used.  If you are treated by a hundred different acupuncturists you will see 100 different small and large variations of what points are stimulated, show they are stimulated and how treatment proceeds.  My point is that if you receive the pain reduction and improved health and greater low back function is achieved, the differences are unimportant.

I suggest to you that you consider going to a few well-known acupuncturists that are referred to you by people whose opinion you trust.  Go several times to test the ability of the acupuncturist to help you.  Do not be discouraged quickly or be hasty to think someone cannot help you.  Do not make the mistake of viewing the limitation of one person to condemn or disregard an entire health care discipline.  Many times what one person fails to do, someone else can do easily.  Keep an open mind, be persistent and I think you have a good chance to be rewarded with a nice reduction of pain that you might not ever have known previously.

Please keep in touch.  I would like to know how you are doing.  DL

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