Approximately 4 out of 5 people will have lower back pain at some point in their lives, which is one of the top reasons people seek medical treatment. It is also the #1 reported reason for seeking acupuncture. The good news is chronic low back pain is one of the conditions that research suggests acupuncture can be an effective tool for treating. In fact, in 2002, the WHO confirmed the effectiveness of acupuncture treatment from controlled clinical trials for 28 diseases, symptoms, and conditions, and lower back pain was one of the conditions that were mentioned in this report (1)
Causes of lower back pain
There are many sources and causes of lower back pain:
- Strains and sprains – can be caused by lifting something too heavy or not lifting safely. But something as simple as a cough or a sneeze can cause strain.
- Spinal disc problems – the cushioning between the vertebrae is wearing down.
- Fractures – a violent force, like a car accident or a fall, can fracture a bone in the lower back. Some conditions, like spondylolysis or osteoporosis, also increase the likelihood of such fractures.
- Structural problems: Scoliosis, for example, is a severe condition that can change the alignment of the spine and cause pain.
- Disease: A family history of osteoarthritis, osteoporosis and some cancers can be underlying causes of back pain. Kidney stones can also lead to intense pain in the lower back region.
The pain can range from moderate to severe. Sometimes, sleeping is disturbed or walking and other everyday activities. It may come on suddenly or intensify gradually. Sometimes back pain can start after a seemingly ordinary, simple physical activity – like bending to pick something up or twisting while trying to get something in or out of the car. Sometimes, the cause is unknown. The pain may be dull, sharp or achy and worse in certain positions. Stiffness, posture problems (like being unable to stand up straight) or muscle spasms are all possible symptoms that suggest something is wrong.
- Age: Lower back pain is more common in people over 30. As we age, the discs that provide the cushioning between the spine’s bones can wear away, resulting in pain and stiffness.
- Weight: Being overweight can also cause back pain over time, as more pressure is placed on joints and discs.
- Fitness: The abdominal muscles support the spine; back pain can result from strains and sprains if these weaken. A sedentary lifestyle can increase the risk of back pain.
- Occupation and lifestyle: Jobs or activities requiring heavy lifting can strain the back and lead to pain.
Diagnosis in Western medicine
As there are many causes of lower back pain, your healthcare professional must undertake a thorough assessment to determine what is causing the pain. Then they can choose the most appropriate treatments. In conventional Western medicine, you will be asked about your symptoms and given a physical exam. If considered necessary and to rule out serious underlying causes, you may also be sent for various tests such as a spine X-Ray, an MRI, or a CT scan. Blood or urine tests may also be required to pinpoint the cause of the pain.
Treatment of lower back pain in Western medicine
Often, when there are no underlying conditions, lower back pain gets better with a few days of rest, ice and over-the-counter pain medications. The current international guidelines for the management of lower back pain include the following:
- Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs)
- Muscle relaxants
- Antidepressants and corticosteroids, among others
These medications often offer mild relief and can have unwanted side effects.
Acupuncture, physiotherapy, massage and chiropractic treatments can all be helpful.
Acupuncture and lower back pain
Many studies support the use of acupuncture as a successful treatment for pain in general, and notably for nonspecific, chronic lower back pain – that is, back pain where there is no serious underlying issue, as outlined above. A recent systematic review and meta-analysis of several studies assessed the effectiveness of acupuncture in combination with standard “Western” treatments compared with standard therapy alone. The authors concluded that “acupuncture as an adjunct to standard therapy is a safe and effective method in reducing pain and disability among adults” with nonspecific lower back pain. (1)
Treatment with acupuncture usually continues until the pain subsides or pain control is satisfactory. The aims are to relieve pain, improve function and support patients to return to an active life.
How can Ondol Clinic help?
At Ondol Clinic, we have a team of health professionals who are highly experienced with and knowledgeable about lower back pain management and how to reduce that debilitating pain. Acupuncture and massage are two treatments Ondol Clinic offers to support your return to pain-free mobility. If you are currently suffering from lower back pain, please contact us and make an appointment, so we can get you moving freely again.
(1) Zhang, X. (2002). Acupuncture: Review and Analysis of Controlled Clinical Trials; World Health Organization: Geneva, Switzerland.
(2) Asano H, Plonka D, Weeger J. Effectiveness of Acupuncture for Nonspecific Chronic Low Back Pain: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis. Med Acupunct. 2022 Apr 1;34(2):96-106. doi: 10.1089/acu.2021.0057. Epub 2022 Apr 19. PMID: 35509875; PMCID: PMC9057891.