Chronic Back Pain – Structure and Treatment
Chronic back pain, particularly low back pain is a common complaint by many of my patients as an acupuncturist. The causes and treatment choices are numerous. Surgery should be considered a last resort especially when diagnostic procedures i.e. X-rays do not reveal structural damage. Chiropractic treatment is beneficial in treating back pain as well as other less familiar but effective therapies such as Acupuncture, Massage, Qi Gong exercise, lifestyle counseling and diet therapy. Relieving obstruction and increasing circulation to improve the body’s regenerative abilities is their main therapeutic focus.
Five vertebrae form the lower spine (lumbar). It is a pivotal center for mobility connecting the upper and lower parts of the body. The lower spine is a body region formed by some of the biggest muscles and the least amount of bone structure to support flexibility and strength for turning, twisting, bending and lifting. Good health requires good circulation. Poor circulation from a weak and/or tight back will decrease the nourishment supplied to the surrounding body structure and limit its regenerative abilities. The back will become weaker, tighter and more prone to injury.
Some of the causes of low back pain are poor posture and long periods of standing, improper lifting, obesity, poor sleeping habits, emotional imbalances and environmental conditions, such as over exposure to cold temperatures. Cold naturally constricts and impedes circulation in general. Poor posture, improper lifting and obesity all can place stress on the lumbar region. Weight gain tends to expand the abdomen applying forward tension and over-extending the lumbar curve causing tightness and poor local circulation. According to the practice of acupuncture, emotions such as fear and anger can deplete the body’s energy or encourage poor posture, also resulting in back pain.
Exercises such as Qi Gong, Yoga, Tai Ji Quan increase flexibility, strength and have a major focus on proper posture. Tight, inflexible muscles connected to the lumbar can overextend the lumbar curve, causing pain when sleeping. Simply placing a pillow under your knees when lying on your back decreases the lumbar curve and may provide pain relief. Keeping the back straight, bending the knees and using the leg muscles for lifting will help avoid back strain. I supplement acupuncture treatments with heat therapy for people who feel cold or have an aversion to cold environments. Moxabustion, herbal hot pouches and heat lamps are commonly used. Create a simple hot pouch by filling a heavy sock with rice and tie it off. Place it in the microwave for a minute and apply. The expansive nature of heat can increase circulation and often turn a tired back into a happy one!
Christopher Carlow, D. Ac.Doctor of Acupuncture Date: 1/1/06