Low back pain is one of the most common reasons patients seek out Acupuncture in our Yorkville clinic. It’s an insanely common pain complaint and tops the list as to why someone seeks out treatment from a Registered Acupuncturist (R. ac). Low back pain is the second most common issue that people visit us in our downtown Toronto Acupuncture clinic. In the past year, we’ve treated it over 1000 times! In this article, we’ll share the causes of low back pain, how we view it in Chinese Medicine and how patients can relax and let us take care of the rest! We hope this will shed light on how acupuncture, Cupping, Gua Sha, Moxibustion and bodywork are all excellent relief for lumbar and hip issues.
It is estimated that at least 80 percent of people will experience lower back pain at some point in their life, ranging in the intensity, quality of pain and duration.Acute pain is characterized by short term pain that lasts a few days to a few weeks, often more severe in nature and is more common in the younger population.Chronic pain is described as longer than 3 months in course, aching pain and more common among the aging population.
What exactly is low back pain?
The low back is technically pain in the lumbar region and/or the hips. Lower back pain encompasses: the region below the 12th rib to the sacrum towards the gluteal fold (aka “bum crease”). The lower back supports the weight of the upper body and is responsible for motions such as flexion, extension, bending, twisting as well as aiding in movement in flexion and rotation of the hip joints while supplying nerves that innervate motor and sensory pathways to the lower limbs.
The classic causes of low back pain
Common low back pain conditions
How we approach lower back pain at Acupuncture Center Toronto
During your first appointment we will do a thorough intake gathering all the specifics as to what is happening in your individual constitution so we can determine what is causing the imbalance leading to pain in your lower back. Patterns in Traditional Chinese Medicine can be caused by either what we call an excess condition or of one of deficiency. In many cases they can overlap one another.
To narrow in on what is happening we will ask about the onset of pain, intensity and quality of the pain- is it dull, vague, sharp, localized? We’re basically coming up with another way of figuring out the root problem or cause for your pain!
We’re all about creating a very specific treatment plan and points made just for you. In order to do this, we will ask very important questions during consultation at the beginning of your appointment.
We ask what makes it better- whether it be pressure, warmth, movement or rest? These answers will point us in the direction of what is happening in your body and direct us as to which points and techniques will help.
What aggravates the pain- is it impacted by weather changes, time of day, emotional stressors or physical stressors?
Where is the pan felt- this indicates which meridian pathway is impacted?
Causes of low back pain according to Chinese Medicine
The physiology of low back pain according to Acupuncture/Chinese Medicine theory
Chronic conditions – We see this with pain that is longer term and as we age- This is more of what is considered a deficient condition that affects the kidney energy – kidney yin (heat symptoms)/ kidney yang (cold symptoms)- this onset is usually slower and more progressive. It is often improved with rest, heat and pressure and aggravated by exertion.
Excess conditions- Onset is often more abrupt and acute – Excess patterns are often inflicted with what we call Cold, Damp, Qi or Blood Stagnation. Cold/ Damp invasion is experienced by aversion to cold, heavy sensation with difficulty twisting. It is better with heat and worse on a cold and damp day. This condition does not improve with rest.
Blood stasis – This occurs when the blood system is not flowing freely as it should, and it stagnates in the channels. This diagnosis or cause is characterized by pain that is sharp, stabbing and localized. There is often difficulty with bending and twisting and it is worse with rest, at night and with pressure. Improves with heat and movement. Lots of great local points or care on the pain will usually help this kind of back pain tremendously
Deficiency conditions- Pain arises when Qi (energy in the body) and blood cannot flow in the channels. This is caused by lack of Qi (deficient) or excess resulting in blockage of flow and movement. Bringing about circulation any way we can to the area as well as strengthening your overall vitality will relieve the discomfort. Think of us as helping you build strength via acupuncture.
To help us confirm your diagnosis we also will take a quick look at your tongue and feel the pulses to ensure we pin down and figure out the correct pattern of what’s happening in your body. And there you have it, complete custom curated diagnosis and a beautiful treatment plan, just for you.
How we treat low back pain
Acupuncture- Sterile, thin pin like needles are placed locally in the painful regions, or distally in your legs, feet and sometimes the hands to stimulate your nerves and nervous system. By doing this we are guiding your body into a state of balance, encourage relaxation and enable the free flow of Qi to reduce your pain.
Acupuncture is generally pain free- some people experience a brief buzzy type of sensation that dissipates, warmth, heaviness, pressure all of which are good indications that energy is moving –we call it” De QI “sensation arriving.
Acupuncture is shown to block pain receptors via stimulation of the nervous system releasing neuro chemicals such as endorphins- serotonin, dopamine and influencing neurotransmitters
Acupuncture produces a response similar to opioid pain-relieving chemicals. But without medication or pharmaceuticals required.
A research study from the Harvard medical school suggests that Acupuncture can alter the central nervous systems perception of chronic pain by desensitizing the client’s perception of stimuli that is not actually present”. This helps relax the nervous system by redirecting neuro pathways and breaking the cycle of the chronic pain experience.
Moxibustion- Moxibustion is incredible for low back pain management. It’s a herb primarily composed of mugwort which is a heat-based therapy to either warm the channels, scatter cold and help aid in moving the stuck energy in the channels. This technique is applied to tender areas or alongside Acupuncture points to help activate the needle. Instantly we see tissue softening and pain easing. In our clinic, we use Japanese Moxibustion because it’s simply the best quality mugwort in the world and has the highest curative value.
Cupping- We’re sure you’ve heard of our famous fire Cupping therapy?! WE KNOW YOU HAVE. The technique is helpful in treating excess conditions to help move the energy and release tension to soften tight tissue and increase blood flow to the area. Glass cups with strong suction are applied to troubled areas- cups can be left stationary or we can slide the cups for more of a deep massage sensation.
At the Center our sparkling clean glass cups are used to suck and grab the low back and hip muscles. Thousands of our patients are hooked on Cupping and it’s easy to understand why.
Gua Sha- We use healing stones to scrape the skin, breaking up scar tissue and stuck fibres, this helps dissolve stagnation and ease pain. Facial release at its finest. Gua Sha on the low back is similar that it leaves the glorious red or purple mark-up on the skin for usually a couple weeks give or take. Worth it as it’s so good for combatting low back pain.
Tuina massage – Believed to be the original form of bodywork. This ancient Chinese massage is essentially is manual therapy to help ease the tension in the soft tissue and along the meridians to help move the stagnation and sooth the system. Most of us do tuina. Some of us have learned other forms of massage depending on who you get treated by in the Center. All of it contributing to relaxing the muscles and making the needles work more effectively. Everyone loves massage!
Red flags- When to see a doctor or ask for an MRI
***Always inform an acupuncturist if: you could be pregnant, are on blood thinning medications or happen to have a pacemaker.
Self-care tips to help control back pain
We hope this was helpful for learning more about how Acupuncture can help low back and understanding it from a Chinese Medicine point of view. We LOVE helping people relieve all kinds of low back pain. Come chill with us at the Center for a full-on low back session. We’re open 7 days a week located in Yorkville, downtown Toronto.
By Jayme Tisi R. Ac, RMT
Jayme Tisi has been helping low backs for over 15 years. Highly qualified educated and experienced. She has double accreditation as both an RMT and Registered Acupuncturist. Her extensive experience in treating pain management is easily recognizable by her often fully booked practice. She lives in the Niagara region but makes a special trip to provide care in our Yorkville clinic once a week, every Sunday morning. Jayme is known for being kind, knowledgeable and extremely professional. She is thorough in her palpation and diagnostic skills and never misses when it comes to figuring out a perfect combination of massage and acupuncture. Click here to book an appointment with Jayme.