What We Treat
Back Pain Relief
There’s a reason people use “backbone” as a metaphor for anything important. It’s the central pillar in your body, and when those bones and the muscles and ligaments surrounding them don’t work correctly, everything else goes wrong, too. Productivity diminishes, sleep deteriorates, focus and attention are eaten away. If the problem is severe enough, back pain constricts your freedom by forcing you to give up on activities you need or enjoy.
It doesn’t have to be that way. Back pain is one of the most common symptoms we treat. Our acupuncturists are experts at helping resolve all types of back pain and are ready to help you deal with your pain in a safe, non-pharmacological way. You need your back fully functional, and we can help.
Read on to learn more about the types of back pain we treat, their causes, and our evidence-based approach. You can also see some typical treatment plans for back pain.
Different Types of Back Pain and Causes
Back pain manifests in a tremendous variety of ways. It can be acute or chronic—it can be skeletal or muscular—it can be caused by environmental factors or disease in the body.
Environmental causes of back pain are normal events in your life that have strained or caused problems in your back. They include:
- Overuse, such as vigorous exercise
- Sitting too much
- Sleeping in the wrong position
- Carry a heavy load, such as a large bag, a child, a piece of furniture, or weightlifting
- Lack of exercise
Diseases are problems with structure of the bone, muscle, or tissue. They include:
- Bulging/ruptured discs
- Arthritis, including spinal stenosis
Low Back Pain
The low back (sometimes referred to as the “lumbar spine”) supports the body. It’s what allows you to move, bend, and flex. When it doesn’t work correctly, your physical mobility becomes severely limited, often accompanied by muscle pain. Common problems include:
- Lumbago: blanket term for unspecified low back pain
- Ankylosing spondylitis: a type of arthritis commonly causing problems in the lower spine
- Sacroiliac joint/ SI joint pain: most common in pregnant or recently pregnant women. Pain/stiffness which extends down to the sacrum
- Sciatica or sciatic nerve pain: lower back pain that travels as a sharp or tingling pain that moves up or down the back through the buttocks, almost always on one side of the body
Middle Back Pain
This is also called thoracic pain, a reference to the thoracic spine that runs through the mid-back. The primary cause of mid-back pain is overuse, such as muscle injuries from lifting (either in exercise or during everyday activities) or repetitive use. Disease or structural issues include bulging or degenerative discs.
Upper Back Pain
Upper back pain is often caused by everyday computer/smartphone usage, which typically worsens over the course of the day. Upper back pain can also have an internal medicine cause: heartburn can cause pain in the upper back, especially between the shoulder blades.
Common upper back problems:
- Pain in the trapezius (muscle connecting neck to shoulders)
- Pain between the shoulder blades
- Degenerative/bulging discs
- Upper back pain due to heartburn/reflux
- Pain that radiates between the trapezius and shoulder blades
A Proven Approach to Back Pain
Acupuncture has been studied for its effectiveness in reducing pain—and the results are in—it’s effectiveness is widely supported by empirical studies, AND it can even be more effective than opioids. That’s in addition to the 2,000 years of use as a testament to its effectiveness!
Our acupuncturists know how to use the tools of traditional Chinese medicine for back pain relief, increasing mobility and range of motion, improving your quality of life, better sleep, improved mental health—all without resorting to pharmacological pain relief.
Acupuncture for Back Pain
Can acupuncture help back pain? Yes! Acupuncture is a safe, effective, and non-pharmacological intervention that can help reduce or eliminate your back pain.
How acupuncture works for back pain
Your experience of pain starts in your brain—your body sends a chemical message to your brain that alerts you something is wrong. Like other bodily systems, it can misfire, especially in situations with chronic pain. Acupuncture can be effective in helping your brain to stop processing these haywire signals that are no longer helping your body heal.
In other cases, the chemical message is correct that you have a problem. Here, acupuncture can help by increasing circulation, healing soft tissues, increasing range of motion, and helping your body resolve the inflammation common to chronic pain.
For acute back pain, acupuncture is great at reducing your pain level. One emergency room study found that acupuncture is more effective than morphine for pain relief, in part because it helps the body release endorphins and enkephalins, which are natural painkillers.
Acupuncture points for back pain
Our acupuncturists often use a combination of local and distal points to treat back pain. “Local points” mean areas of the body where you feel the pain, while “distal points” refer to areas of the body further away and which are not in pain.
Let’s say you have some lower back pain: our acupuncturists may needle local points (in acupuncturist lingo, they might use BL30, BL25, GB31) and distal points (such as BL40, LU9, LU8, LI11, SI3, BL62, DU20).
We use distal points because:
- In some cases, it is better to stay away from local inflammation
- TCM meridian theory has connections between channels that we normally wouldn’t suspect; hence, needling the arm can help with lower back pain due to the way the lung channel (running through the arm) has a relationship with the bladder channel (running through the low back)
- There are also some cases (such as pregnancy or sciatica) which make needling the back impossible, and distal points allow us to treat the symptoms another way
Chinese Herbal Medicine for Back Pain
Chinese herbs can work wonders for pain relief. Herbal formulas can contain herbs that guide the formula to the back and alleviate inflammation and improve blood flow. There are also herbs that specifically treat back pain, such as du huo, which treats low back pain and muscle aches. Qiang huo helps alleviate pain in the mid-and upper-back.
Our acupuncturists may also prescribe herbal liniments, which offer both a warming effect (similar to a heat pad or moxibustion) and improve blood flow. They may even send you home with herbal patches made of ai ye that will allow you to extend your treatment through the week.
Cupping for back pain
Does cupping help back pain? Cupping is excellent for treating back pain. Cupping helps back pain by relaxing tight muscles and increasing blood flow to the back to help calm inflammation and help you heal faster. Cupping is most helpful for muscle strain and overuse, which is common on the mid-and upper-back.
What is cupping therapy for back pain?
Cupping therapy for back pain is like a deep tissue massage in reverse. This includes the placement of cups on or near areas of pain in the back. The acupuncturist will create a comfortable suction and either leave the cups stationary or move the cups gently—creating a massage effect.
How does cupping help back pain?
Cupping can relieve muscle knots from tension as well as treat severe back pain like sciatica. For muscle knots, our acupuncturists will cup your upper back and scapula, while for sciatica, they’ll work on the lower back, glutes, and piriformis for pain relief. Because cupping can help a wide range of back problems, the back is the most commonly cupped area of the body, providing fast, safe pain relief.
Gua Sha for Back Pain
Gua sha is excellent for treating upper back pain along the trapezius and between the shoulder blades. Gua Sha is performed by first applying massage oil to the affected area, then moving the gua sha stone in a scraping motion across the skin. This motion causes adhesions in the fascia and superficial muscle layer to release, which relieves pain and increases circulation allowing the area to properly heal.
Chronic Back Pain Relief
Typical Treatment Plans for Back Pain
Our acupuncturists will make treatment plans based on your specific health history and diagnosis. Your body and pain level will help guide us on how often you need treatment. However, the following will give you some idea of what to expect:
- For general acute back pain (such as overuse or sports injury), you can expect to get treatments weekly for 4 weeks then we will reassess. You will likely be treated with acupuncture, cupping, stretches and lifestyle modifications, and possibly an herbal prescription.
- For general chronic back pain (lasting 12 weeks or longer), you can expect to be treated weekly or twice a week for 6-8 weeks. You will likely be treated with acupuncture, cupping, and possibly an herbal prescription.
- For sciatica, you can expect to come once a week for 4–6 weeks. For severe cases, you may need to come twice a week. You will likely be treated with acupuncture and cupping.
- For arthritis (such as spinal stenosis), you can expect to be treated once a week for 6–8 weeks. If the condition is structural, you can expect to continue to get treated at least once a month to help reduce pain and other symptoms.
After the initial treatment plan, our acupuncturists will reassess with you and develop an ongoing treatment plan, which often calls for coming in once or twice a month, depending on your symptoms. Once you are comfortable that your back pain is resolved or manageable, you can pause treatment and come back if you have a flare-up.
Your Acupuncture Treatment Plan
Your journey to better health begins before you step through our doors. You'll be able to easily schedule an appointment online as well as fill out your health history form before you arrive at our office—maximizing conversational and treatment time with your acupuncturist.
At your first appointment, your acupuncturist will discuss your health history, get input from you on what your treatment goals are, and develop a treatment plan. They'll then treat you using whatever services are best suited to your specific symptoms.
Although plans vary depending on the patient, most typically run for four weeks. At the end of your first visit, your acupuncturist will give you a written treatment plan. At subsequent visits, you'll discuss your symptoms and whether they've improved, regressed, or stayed the same. Your acupuncturist will adjust the treatment plan based on your input and their ongoing diagnosis of your condition.
When your main complaint is resolved, you can reduce treatment or work on another symptom. Still thinking it over? Take a look at our Testimonials page to see what other patients are saying.
Your Back is the Backbone of Good Health
You need your back fully functional so you can focus on work and play, be present to the people who are important to you, and be able to do all the activities you love in life. Acupuncture, cupping, gua sha, and Chinese herbal medicine work together to help you achieve relief from your back pain.
Ready to experience this for yourself? Head to our Booking page and schedule your first appointment. If you’d like us to check your insurance benefits, we’d be happy to take care of that for you. We’re in-network with CareFirst/BlueCross and Aetna.
The Cherry Blossom Team