3 Ancient Eastern Healing Systems that May Help Your Back

Complementary Medicine from the Other Side of the Planet

Researchers have begun to study the effects of acupuncture on chronic neck pain.
Researchers have begun to study the effects of acupuncture on chronic neck pain. (c) Anne Asher 2006 licensed to About.com

I've met so many people with chronic neck or back pain who have "been through the medical system" in an effort to relieve, manage or cure their back pain. Unfortunately, many have little relief to show for it.

This trend may be one reason why more and more people are turning to CAM (an acronym standing for complimentary and alternative medicine) for their spines. According to the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health, back pain is the most common condition for which adults use CAM.

The NCCIH goes on to say that spine patients turn to CAM to decrease their pain, improve their physical functioning, improve their quality of life, prevent recurring back pain, prevent a chronic problem and/or avoid treatment side effects.

CAM therapies commonly employed for neck or back pain include a number of systems developed in the West in the last century or two, such as: Chiropractic or osteopathic manipulation, massage, relaxation techniques, homeopathy and movement therapy.

Related:  Manage Your Chronic Pain Holistically

But let's not forget the ancient Eastern systems. Many Westerners who invest in yoga, acupuncture, acupressure, ayurvedic medicine and similar practices believe that although little medical research has been done, with 4000 years of development and knowledge acquisition behind them, these systems are time-tested, true and effective.

With that in mind, here are 4 ancient systems developed in the East that may relieve your back pain.


Acupuncture is one of a number of TCM - Traditional Chinese Medicine - techniques. It involves inserting thin needles through the skin at specific points along "meridians," or channels of energy flow. The point (no pun intended) of using the needles at key areas along meridians is to release blockages of "chi." Chi is a term that refers to the energy that serves life.

You might think of meridians as pathways down which vital chi energy flows. When things get bogged up anywhere along the meridian pathway, the chi in that area cannot flow harmoniously, which in turn may hamper your health.

The NCCIH suggests results from a number of studies suggest that acupuncture may help ease certain types of chronic pain including low back and neck pain. They also report few complications related to acupuncture but nonsterile needles and improver delivery of the treatment are things to watch out for. Most of the time, improper delivery is due to treatment given by people who are not qualified. NCCIH suggests checking your practitioner's credentials. They say that most states require a license, certification, or registration to practice acupuncture, but that these standards and requirements vary by state.

NCCIH also says it is not a good idea to substitute acupuncture for regular medical care. Some M.D.s have an acupuncture license, and practice medical acupuncture - this may be the way to go if your back problems are serious.


Evolved from acupuncture, Shiatsu is a Japanese massage therapy system that is based on ancient Chinese ideas. In a Shiatsu massage, the therapist uses her fingertips to give pressure to specific points - usually where the problem is.

Types of problems most often addressed with Shiatsu massage include muscle tension, arthritis and deep bruises (of bone and/or soft tissue.) Shiatsu involves little if any flowing strokes, but may be accompanied with stretching work. Most of the time, the goal is prevention rather than cure.

Shiatsu massages are given with the patient fully clothed, and lying on the floor.


Quite popular in the West today, yoga is an ancient system originating from India, thousands of years ago. It consists of a number of poses performed in a variety of positions: Lying down, sitting, standing, kneeling, supporting your weight on your head or hand, etc.

One of the main focuses of most types of yoga, and one I have found to be very helpful to people in terms of relieving neck or back pain is body alignment. When you work with a qualified, knowledgeable instructor, you'll likely learn how to stand, sit and support your body weight in the most advantageous way. For many people, this is all they need to relieve their muscle related spine pain. Yoga develops strength and flexibility, which often leads to better body alignment.

And here's an interesting tidbit: In ancient times, the practice of yoga involved but few postures (which are called asanas.) Yoga then was more about preparing the body for long bouts of sitting meditation. The more gymnastic poses most of us associate with yoga today were developed in the late 19th century in Europe, and their use has spread all over the world.


Acupuncture: What You Need to Know. NCCIHM webiste. Accessed: Jan 2015. https://nccih.nih.gov/health/acupuncture/introduction

Fishman, L. and Ardman, C., Back Pain: How to Relieve Back Pain and Sciatica. W. W. Norton and Company, New York, London. 1997

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