Low back pain – the Chinese medicine view
Whenever there’s back pain, there is some kind of disordered flow of “Qi” (energy) and “Blood” in the channels in the lower back region. The channels may be in spasm, or may not be adequated “nourished” with Qi and blood. This can happen for a few different reasons:
First, traumatic injury to the low back region, of course, can also directly interfere with blood circulation in the region. It often causes a type of pain we call “blood stagnation” pain – often sharp, stabbing or fixed, and the low back may feel tender to touch (as opposed to feeling great when someone’s putting pressure to massage it). Blood stagnation type pain may include acute strains, spasms, or pain from a herniated disk (if pain is sharp). Acupuncture and associated techniques (blood-letting, cupping) can be very effective in moving stagnant Blood.
Second, Chinese medicine is unlike Western medicine in including environmental factors in its analysis. For example, “Cold” or “Dampness” in the environment can easily lodge into the channels of the low back. This may happen after lying on damp ground, walking around in cold or damp weather without adequate layers, wading in the water, or being exposed to the wind soon after sweating profusely (e.g. after exercise). If the pain is worse with cold or damp weather, or if the back feels cold or heavy, we know these climatic factors are part of the clinical picture, and may use moxa (an herb that often gets burned over acupuncture points), a heat lamp or pad, or warming herbs to help improve low back energy circulation. More rarely, Dampness can also combined with or generate “Heat” which would cause a more burning, heavy pain, and may be accompanied by thirst and/or dry stool or constipation. In either case it is important to eat appropriately to eliminate the Cold, Dampness or Heat.
Finally, if the back pain is chronic, dull, and had a gradual onset it’s likely due to a gradual decline of energy in the “Kidney-adrenal” system. The Kidney-adrenals can be weak due to: aging, prolonged stress or emotional trauma, prolonged illnesses, inadequate rest, excessive ejaculation, multiple childbirths or pregnancies, constitution (genetic / congenital factors), or chronic taxation of the digestive system (through irregular eating, or excessive eating of difficult to digest foods such as dairy, sweets, wheat, cold and raw foods.) Acupuncture, herbs, dietary / lifestyle changes, and regular Qi gong practice can all improve the strength of this system. You can download my handout on the Winter season, which includes some information, recipes and Qi Gong exercise, to support the Kidney-adrenal system.
I usually use a combination of acupuncture points to (a) treat the root imbalance causing the back pain, (b) help Qi and Blood flow in the the affected channels – using local points (i.e. on the back itself) and distal points (usually on the arms or legs), (c) address trigger points in muscles that commonly refer pain to the lower back (e.g. the iliopsoas, paraspinals, quadratus lumborum, gluteals, etc.). This multi-pronged approach is generally quite successful to manage the pain. Length and frequency of treatments dependent on the type of back pain present and how chronic it has been. Feel free to contact me for a free 15 minute phone consultation at 416-890-7770.
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