According to the UK Office for National Statistics (ONS) almost thirty-one million days of work were lost last year due to back, neck and muscle problems.
This is therefore statistically likely to include you. According to the National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases in the US the causes of back pain are most likely to include:-
- Getting older
- Being overweight
- Poor physical fitness
- Hereditary factors
- Your job
So what can you do about this? In my opinion the first step is to get to know your condition. Any health professional you consult is likely to ask you questions about your symptoms. What makes it better, what makes it worse? What does it feel like?
Is this the first time you have encountered the problem, or has it been building up over a period of time? Where does it hurt – is it centrally located (ie around your spine) or to one side? Does it refer down your leg? What does your pain feel like – is it dull, sharp, numb, tingling? Does this alter during the day? Is it better for rubbing or pressing?
Is your discomfort better for sitting, standing, walking, lying down? Can you bend down and touch your toes or put your socks on? Which everyday movements will cause you difficulties? Does heat help or make it worse? Are you taking any pain killing medication – is it making a difference? Does your back feel better on a hot day, or after a hot shower?
By now you probably know how to make yourself more comfortable so the next step is to contact your general practitioner. On your first visit you may be recommended medication to ease the pain and referred for physiotherapy. Many people will also privately consult an acupuncturist, massage therapist, chiropractor or osteopath. Did you know that current NICE guidelines for the early management of persistent non-specific low back pain [guideline CG88 published
So what does an acupuncturist do when presented with low back pain? You may be aware that acupuncture uses needles, but may be surprised to know that a wide range of other interventions are available such as moxibustion (heat therapy), cupping, guasha (a type of deep friction massage), auriculotherapy, massage, Chinese exercise forms, electroacupuncture and dietary therapy to name but a few. These are all based on the same fundamental Chinese principles, and the main aim is typically to move circulation in the back, to strengthen supporting muscles and tissues and to address any underlying causes. Where contributory lifestyle issues are identified, remedial action may be suggested in order to speed recovery and to prevent recurrence.
To illustrate the point, John (aged 42) suffered with recurrent sciatic pain down his left leg with intermittent feelings of numbness and tingling. He was able to gain temporary relief from hot baths. He had consulted a chiropractor for several months who had said that (in the patient’s words) his pelvis was out of alignment. After corrective treatment he noted that he felt more comfortable, but within a day or two the symptoms had returned.
On his first to my acupuncture clinic, he told me that he would often feel hot and restless in bed at night accompanied by a dry mouth. I could clearly see when viewed from the side that his back was in a weakened state (he had a pronounced sag). I diagnosed ‘kidney yin’ weakness (brought on by overwork) and treated this for three sessions, after which he returned to his chiropractor. I am pleased to say that his manipulations began to hold for much longer periods of time and he soon made a full recovery.
So what else can you do? A number of studies have demonstrated that exercise such as Tai Chi, yoga and pilates can be helpful for back pain. These can help develop core muscle strength and work joints and muscles in a systematic and relaxed way, with an emphasis on stretching.
You may find the application of heat to be helpful – I recommend you avoid applying heat directly to your spine in case of inflammation. Many people are frightened of massage thinking they may break something! In my experience there is nothing better for tight muscles than than a good massage. You should avoid pressing on the spine though, and if massage does make things worse stop at once and seek advice.
As the old expression says ‘prevention is better than cure’.
For more information on acupuncture for back pain take a look at the following fact sheet provided by The British Acupuncture Council:_