Tuesday, October 26, 2010
Severe Back Pain Treated with Acupuncture
One of the top reasons people seek medical treatment is for severe back pain. Millions of Americans suffer from this condition, and when left untreated, will only worsen in time. The result of severe back pain left untreated is debilitating and causes further issues in other parts of the body. Part of the reason severe back pain is difficult to treat with Western medicine is because the root (origin) of back pain is not addressed. This is the path acupuncture uses to successfully treat severe back pain. The treatments have been so successful, in fact, that back pain is the most documented ailment researched in the field of acupuncture.
Anatomy of Back Pain
The sources of back pain may differ, but human anatomy does not. The lats (latissimus dorsi) are broad muscles that fan out to cover a large portion of the back. They originate (begin) at the spinous processes of T7 through T12 and spread throughout the entire lower and mid back. The lats cross many anatomical landmarks and muscles on the posterior of the body. It comes in contact with the top of the hip bone (the iliac crest), most of the ribs and bottom of the rotor cuff (lower angle of the scapula) and attaches on floor of the intertubercular groove of the humerus bone (the upper arm).
The functions of the latissimus dorsi muscle include extension, adduction and transverse extension of the arms, internal rotation of the shoulder joint, extension and lateral flexion of the lumbar spine and well as stabilizing the torso during many movements that involve back, shoulders, abdomen and arms.
Severe lower back pain almost always involves the lat muscles. This is mainly because of their size and contact with other main muscle groups (shoulder, hip, arm, neck muscles). When a muscle is pulled, strained or even just weak, the body’s defense mechanism is to tighten to protect the body. In the case of the lats, the muscle tightens to protect the spine and, in that mission, becomes inflamed. Once these back muscles are inflamed, it affects other muscle groups that the lats come in contact with. This is the reason pain travels to other parts of the body, particularly causing middle back pain, upper back pain and shoulder pain. The longer pain persists, the harder it is to treat because it is no longer confined only to the lower back.
When the lat muscles are not relaxed, other back muscles begin to compensate eventually leading to those muscles becoming weak or inflamed. The reason why is because the body is moving, pulling and extending out of alignment with the wrong muscle group pulling the weight. Because many muscles overlap, particularly the back muscles, severe back pain spreads to other muscles. If severe back pain is not dealt with effectively, the rigidness of the muscles within the lower back will begin to tighten into the mid and upper back, shoulder and other areas. This can begin to effect vision, create headaches or even impair hearing.
Causes of Back Pain
Excessive weight, obesity/ anorexia Poor posterior
Weak abdominal muscles Excessive physical work
Trauma (fall, accident, pull or strain) Depression/Lack of support in life
Pregnancy Lack of sleep/too much sleep
Herniated disc, disc degeneration or nerve impingement Kidney or bladder infection
Sleep position Referral pain
Bone vs. Muscle
The skeletal system is the frame of the body that gives form and shape. The muscles are what propels the body and gives the body function. Although these two systems have completely different functions, they are co-dependent in their individual functions.
When talking about how to correct the root of severe back pain, knowing if the pain is originating from a disc or from a weak or strained muscle is difficult without an x-ray. The muscles strain or tighten under stress resulting in bone (or vertebrae) to become more compressed. This compression can lead to pinched nerves, stenosis (the narrowing of foreman) or a disc sliding out of place. The muscles can cause the skeleton to shift, creating pain. The muscles insert through and onto bone. As bones shift, the muscles can become strained, creating inflammation and pain. The muscles must be relaxed, limber and stretched to adjust bone back into proper alignment.
If the body is adjusted with chiropractic treatment, without relaxing the muscles prior, more pain will occur as the body’s defense mechanism turns on to protect itself from greater harm. This is why half of all back pain sufferers do not get relief from chiropractic treatment alone, although chiropractic care for back pain has become more effective with the recent addition of massage therapy and electro stimulation. Still, if the muscle is large and deep in the body (as the lats are), these additional therapies are only superficial techniques that cannot penetrate the muscle to induce relaxation.
The same experience can happen with massage therapy. Even though pain goes away temporarily, massage is not able to penetrate deep enough for the muscle to relax. The back pain usually returns within a few days. Physical therapy can assist in strengthening weak muscles (especially the abdominal muscles). However, if the source of pain is not dealt with, it will cause a patient more pain, inflammation and weakness in the long run. Before strengthening another part of the body, pain must be addressed and eliminated.
Western Medical Treatment for Back Pain
Conventional Western medical treatment is rarely effective in cases of severe back pain. Part of the reason is Western medicine does not treat the muscles themselves. Patients are typically prescribed medication to alleviate pain and receive no further treatment. The biggest concern about medication is that it simply numbs the body and eventually wears off leaving the patient needing more. When a patient is on medication for severe back pain resulting in numbness, they continue to damage the back muscles. The result is more pain in the low back that will, over time, spread to other muscles.
The second option for dealing with severe lower back pain is cortisone shots. These shots temporarily block the nerve endings of the muscles. This effect usually can last anywhere from a month to three months. Again, this modality does not correct the muscular problem causing pain. The patient continues to use the back because they can no longer feel pain and creates more pain in more areas of the body when the shots wear off.
The third option and last option is back surgery. Back surgery has a very low success rate for various reasons. Statistics on back surgery convey that more than half back surgeries fail to correct back pain and in many cases create more pain. Surgery itself is an invasive technique that causes inflammation (swelling) to muscles that are already inflamed. The recovery after back surgery can lapse into years. This is mainly because when muscles are not being used, they atrophy and become weaker. After back surgery, the back is not able to be used adequately. The inflammation caused by traditional surgery restricts range of movement, inflicts more pain and has a long recovery time. The results of traditional back surgery often create more complications and pain then before surgery is performed. The strategy of conventional back surgery is alleviating pressure from a pinched nerve or adding stability to a painful joint. It is difficult to completely cut out a patient’s pain altogether using these “solutions”.
Acupuncture for Severe Back Pain
Acupuncture has been researched more on severe back pain than any other issue within the body, primarily because it is incredibly effective. Acupuncture cuts pain levels in half almost immediately. Patients report that they feel relief from severe back pain before even getting off the treatment table. Acupuncture is able to work so well because it is able to penetrate back muscles that lie deep in the spine. Your acupuncturist can further warm the needles while inserted to allow further relaxation, or stimulate the muscle by adding electoral stimulation to the needle.
Either way, relief can be achieved immediately with the use of acupuncture. Of course, the more chronic the back pain the more treatments one may need. But usually, pain can be completely eliminated within a few treatments. Acupuncture is more effective than other treatments and has no side effects. Due to the shortened treatment time, acupuncture is considerably less expensive.
If you or someone you know is suffering from severe lower back pain and not seeing promising results, feel free to contact me to schedule an appointment.
Thank you for Reading,
Dana Bairen, L.Ac.
Severe Lower Back pain, Lower back Pain, Mid Back Pain, Upper Back Pain, Shoulder pain