You may be wondering, could acupuncture be the solution to my back pain?
According to a study published in the Annals of Internal Medicine, back pain is responsible for more Americans seeking supplementary healing practices than any other medical condition.
In 2019, opioids were involved in an estimated 62,029 deaths related to overdose according to the CDC. Because so many people are seeking non-invasive and non-drug solutions to back pain, and because of it’s demonstrated effectiveness, Medicare approved acupuncture as a treatment for back pain in January 2020.
The short answer is, yes! And in this article, we’re going to share some of the research on acupuncture for back pain, along with some of the other things you should know about utilizing this ancient health modality to treat back pain.
First, let’s take a look at the research…
The U.S. National Library of Medicine states that, “Research suggests that acupuncture can help manage certain pain conditions.”
Before its dissolution in 2019, referred to acupuncture as “one of the most common non-pharmaceutical pain relieving treatments.”
Some studies have shown that acupuncture increases adenosine concentrations, which inhibit pain receptors on nerves that transmit pain. This temporarily reduces the sensation of pain by blocking the transmission of the pain to the brain.
Acute VS Chronic
As you probably already know, there are two main classifications of pain: acute and chronic. And depending on what type you experience, acupuncture works differently for each.
A meta-analysis published in the Journal of Pain in 2019 reviewing 39 studies and 20,827 patients confirmed that “acupuncture has a clinically relevant effect” on chronic pain. Two other findings that are of interest from this article are that the effects of acupuncture persist over at least 12 months. That’s great news, as it means that the positive benefits of acupuncture for chronic back pain are not just experienced after treatment.
Additionally, the researchers stated that ‘specific effects of needling at correct acupuncture point locations are important contributors to acupuncture treatment benefit.’ This means that the skill and understanding of your acupuncturist in needling the correct points is actually a very important factor in how effective your acupuncture treatment is.
However, it is also important to note that not all back pain is the same, and you should consult with a healthcare professional to determine if the type of back pain you are experiencing is responsive to acupuncture treatment.
For acute pain relief, acupuncture has been shown to be more effective than medication, and this is certainly encouraging for anyone who is concerned about medications like opiates. Many studies, like this one, have shown that acupuncture is effective for chronic low back pain and pain relief.
Low Back Pain
What about low back pain? Is acupuncture effective?
Studies have also found that acupuncture is effective for pain relief for people suffering from low back pain, and further, meta-analysis like this one have looked at 33 studies to determine that acupuncture is effective for chronic low back pain.
Back Pain During Pregnancy
A study published in the journal Acupuncture in Medicine demonstrated that “acupuncture seems to alleviate low back and pelvic pain during pregnancy, as well as to increase the capacity for some physical activities and to diminish the need for drugs.”
And another study showed “acupuncture relieves low-back and pelvic pain without serious adverse effects in late pregnancy.”
So research seems to suggest that acupuncture may be used to help alleviate back pain during pregnancy.
How Acupuncture Works
How acupuncture works is not fully understood. In an acupuncture treatment, the acupuncturist inserts and manipulates fine needles at specific points or combinations of points on your body that relate to the energy flow in your body based on the traditional East Asian meridians and energy channels. This energy is also known as chi or qi. There is a relationship between these points and channels with your organs and health and with the symptoms of disease and dysfunction you may experience, including pain.
How Many Sessions?
The number of sessions you’ll need will depend on the type of back pain you are experiencing, whether it’s chronic or acute, and will depend on the recommendations of your acupuncturist. Most trials and studies had participants receiving acupuncture anywhere from once a week to up to six times per week. In most cases, you may wish to start more aggressively, with higher frequency of treatments at the beginning, and taper off to weekly acupuncture treatments.
Also keep in mind that some studies have shown that the effects of various therapies are only temporary, and may require some amount of continued activity in order to maintain a pain-free state.
The average cost of acupuncture is around $75 per session, but may be more or less depending on your area and the individual practitioner. For example, an acupuncturist trained at the Shaolin temple who works in Phoenix, AZ charges $150 per session.
Based on the average, you might expect to pay $300/month for weekly acupuncture sessions, and upward to $600 for highly skilled practitioners. If you get acupuncture 2-3 times per week, the cost will go up significantly, with the highest skilled practitioners costing $1800/mo a month of 3x weekly sessions.
You may also consider community acupuncture if the cost of such treatments seems prohibitive. Community acupuncture sessions may cost $15-20 each, allowing for you to receive acupuncture 3x weekly for a mere $60/week or $240 monthly.
Frequently asked questions
Does acupuncture work for back pain?
While there is evidence that acupuncture is effective for treating both chronic and acut back pain, acupuncture does not work in every case. While most people find relief from using acupuncture as a supplementary healing practice, there is no guarantee and you should seek the advice of a trained professional to determine if the back pain you experience is receptive to acupuncture as a treatment.
Does Medicare cover acupuncture?
Yes! The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) made a decision to cover acupuncture for Medicare patients with chronic low back pain in January 2020.
How often should I get acupuncture for back pain?
Most acupuncturists recommend receiving weekly treatments as a minimum. However, there is no magic number that works for everyone and some people may find the effects of the treatment waning over time, and will therefore need more frequent and prolonged treatment.
Is massage or chiropractic better than acupuncture for back pain?
Massage, chiropractic, and acupuncture have all been shown benefit back pain, and there’s no reason they can’t work in tandem.
How long does it take for acupuncture to work?
The results of acupuncture can be very subjective, and everyone experiences them differently. Most research studies show that results occurred after prolonged treatment. Few people experienced immediate relief after just one treatment. In addition, acupuncture is not a cure-all, and like any therapy, there is no guarantee of success.
Are there side effects?
The side effects of acupuncture may include pain or bleeding during needle insertain. Headaches, body aches, nausea, and fainting may also occur during or after treatment but are often mild and transient. More serious side effects are rare, but can occur, such as septicemia and hepatitis C infection.
There are many complementary and alternative therapies that may help with back pain, including:
- Guided imagery and visualization
- Massage Therapy
- Yoga Therapy
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