Acupuncture for Back Pain

acupuncture for back pain
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For relief of back pain, an alternative therapy known as acupuncture may be helpful. A needle-based healing technique long practiced in traditional Chinese medicine, acupuncture is used to treat a wide range of conditions associated with chronic pain. It's thought that undergoing acupuncture may help alleviate back pain, as well as treat back-pain-related disability.

Why Is Acupuncture Sometimes Used for Back Pain Relief?

Acupuncture involves the insertion of needles into specific points on the body thought to connect with certain "meridians" (pathways considered responsible for transporting vital energy).

Referred to as "chi", this vital energy is said to play an essential role in maintaining health. According to the principles of traditional Chinese medicine, blockages in the flow of chi are a prime cause of health issues (including back pain). Acupuncturists aim to clear up these blockages and, in turn, promote healing from back pain and other conditions.

In addition, acupuncture is thought to offer relief of back pain and other health problems by stimulating the body's release of naturally occurring chemicals known to reduce pain. Indeed, some research suggests that acupuncture may rev up activity in the opioidergic system (a biochemical system involved in pain modulation).

The Science Behind Acupuncture and Back Pain

A good deal of scientific studies suggest that acupuncture may be beneficial for people with back pain.

In a report published in the journal Spine in 2008, for example, researchers reviewed 23 previously published clinical trials (with a total of 6,359 patients) and found "moderate evidence that acupuncture is more effective than no treatment" for short-term relief of back pain.

What's more, the review's authors found "strong evidence that acupuncture can be a useful supplement to other forms of conventional therapy" in the treatment of back pain.

Some of the most recent research on acupuncture and back pain includes a study published in the Clinical Journal of Pain in 2015, which found that back pain sufferers who believe that acupuncture will work may experience greater benefits from the treatment (compared to those who have low expectations of acupuncture prior to undergoing treatment).

The study involved 485 people with back pain, all of whom were being treated by acupuncturists. In their analysis of a series of questionnaires (completed by the patients prior to the start of treatment and then two weeks, three months, and six months later), the study's authors found that those who had more positive expectations of the outcome of their treatment experienced less disability and were better able to cope with their pain.


Acupuncture is generally considered safe when administered by a qualified practitioner. However, improperly delivered acupuncture may lead to serious adverse effects, such as infection and injury to the central nervous system.

Talk to your doctor for help in finding a qualified practitioner of acupuncture.

Alternatives to Acupuncture for Back Pain Relief

Several other alternative therapies may help to soothe back pain. For example, studies indicate that alternative treatments such as chiropractic, the Alexander Technique, and massage therapy may help lessen pain in people with back problems.

Furthermore, natural remedies like capsaicin cream, white willow bark, and devil's claw may lessen back pain to some degree.

It's important to note that self-care strategies like exercising regularly, maintaining a healthy weight, and improving your posture are also essential for back pain control. Practicing mind-body techniques like yoga, meditation, and tai chi may help manage back pain as well.

Beyond Back Pain: Other Benefits of Acupuncture

Along with providing relief of back pain, acupuncture may help ease the pain of conditions like osteoarthritis, carpal tunnel syndrome, migraines, tendonitis, and TMJ syndrome.


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Hutchinson AJ1, Ball S, Andrews JC, Jones GG. "The effectiveness of acupuncture in treating chronic non-specific low back pain: a systematic review of the literature." J Orthop Surg Res. 2012 Oct 30;7:36.

Lee JH1, Choi TY, Lee MS, Lee H, Shin BC, Lee H. "Acupuncture for acute low back pain: a systematic review." Clin J Pain. 2013 Feb;29(2):172-85.

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Manheimer E1, White A, Berman B, Forys K, Ernst E. "Meta-analysis: acupuncture for low back pain." Ann Intern Med. 2005 Apr 19;142(8):651-63.

Yuan J1, Purepong N, Kerr DP, Park J, Bradbury I, McDonough S. "Effectiveness of acupuncture for low back pain: a systematic review." Spine (Phila Pa 1976). 2008 Nov 1;33(23):E887-900.

Disclaimer: The information contained on this site is intended for educational purposes only and is not a substitute for advice, diagnosis or treatment by a licensed physician. It is not meant to cover all possible precautions, drug interactions, circumstances or adverse effects. You should seek prompt medical care for any health issues and consult your doctor before using alternative medicine or making a change to your regimen.

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