Despite a lack of widespread support within the mainstream medical community, many people with persistent lower back pain find relief from acupuncture and turn to it as a means of avoiding more serious options like spinal surgery. Involving the careful insertion of sterilized needles into strategic points within the body in an effort to eliminate pain sensations, it’s a treatment with some credible theories that may explain why it works for some people.
Increasing the Flow of Painkilling Chemicals
One theory on how acupuncture may help relieve back pain suggests that stimulating some of the more than 2,000 trigger points on the body may increase the flow of electromagnetic signals that deliver so-called “feel good” chemicals (endorphins) in the body, resulting in pain relief.
Releasing Natural Opioids
The brain has a natural painkiller system that releases naturally occurring opioids that can stop severe or chronic pain. It’s been suggested that stimulating certain trigger points within the body coaxes the brain into producing more of these natural opioids.
Changing Brain Chemistry
Stimulation from acupuncture may affect the chemistry within certain parts of the brain that control pain. By changing how neurotransmitters and neurohormones are released, acupuncture may desensitize or weaken nerve impulses responsible for what’s felt as back pain. The brain stem connects the brain to the spine, so this may be another reason for the effects on brain chemistry.
A Possible Placebo Effect
Studies involving the effectiveness of acupuncture for back pain often produce mixed results since patients receiving “fake” treatment with needles randomly inserted often report the same relief experienced by patients receiving the real treatment. The inference is that some patients are already convinced acupuncture will work, so they’re inclined to perceive and report positive results.
Conclusive evidence on the effectiveness of acupuncture for back pain is scarce due to the subjective nature of the treatment. Although, one study found that participants reported relief from lower back pain lasting up to six months from twice-weekly needling for five weeks. Acupuncture is, however, a non-surgical back treatment worth considering if other methods of back pain relief aren’t producing results. The American Academy of Medical Acupuncture website provides a listing of licensed acupuncturists based on experience and background.
If you’d like to learn more about your options for pain relief, including conservative measures and minimally invasive spine treatments, reach out to The Spine Institute at (310) 828-7757 and request an in-person consultation. Relief starts here.