Back pain and sciatica are among the most common types of chronic pain, and are leading causes for missed work, diminished quality of life, and even disability claims. Western medicine attempts to treat this pain with a complex mix of painkillers and physical therapy, but has not yet hit on a combination that can truly heal the pain. In addition, many medications that are excellent at managing pain also have dangerous side effects, and some have even been banned in the United States as a result. Fortunately, acupuncture offers hope.
Eastern medicine has incorporated acupuncture as part of a holistic approach to pain management for thousands of years, and the practice has begun to earn the respect of Western physicians in recent years. The NIH (National Institute of Health) and the WHO (World Health Organization) have approved acupuncture as a safe, painless complement to Western treatments for a variety of conditions. Clinical studies have repeatedly shown that acupuncture offers effective relief for many types of back pain and sciatica.
What Causes Back Pain and Sciatica?
Back pain and sciatica are considered symptoms of an underlying medical problem, rather than separate conditions on their own. One of the most common causes of back pain is the degeneration of the spinal discs, which can happen due to age or trauma. Ruptured or herniated discs, muscle spasms, and tension can also cause chronic back pain. Injuries such as sprains and disc fractures, medical conditions such as arthritis and scoliosis, and illnesses such as endometriosis and fibromyalgia can also cause back pain.
Sciatica refers to the pinching or compression of the sciatic nerve, causing pain to radiate from the lower back down the leg. It is often described as a sharp or burning pain, and may be accompanied by numbness or tingling. Sciatica is most often caused by a herniated disc or bone spur, but can also accompany diabetes and other diseases.
How Does Acupuncture Relieve Back Pain and Sciatica?
Eastern medicine views the body as a homeostatic system with a remarkable ability to heal itself. Qi, the life force energy that forms the essence of every living thing, is a key component in restoring and maintaining balance. Yet it is prone to becoming blocked by the pressures of daily life. Stress, poor life choices, and an unhealthy diet can worsen the blockage. Acupuncture opens vital channels, restoring the capacity for Qi to flow freely and supporting the body’s natural healing processes.
Western clinical research studies have repeatedly shown that acupuncture stimulates the central nervous system and natural healing responses in several important ways.
- Microtrauma: The needles cause microtrauma, or very minor surface damage, which stimulates the body to begin the healing process, similarly to how it responds to a cut finger.
- Endorphins: The needle stimulation also induces the brain to release endorphins and other powerful feel-good chemicals, which block pain and induce a feeling of mild euphoria.
- Neurotransmitters: Some evidence shows that acupuncture also affects the speed and quantity of neurotransmitters that are released in the brain. These chemicals dampen nerve impulses, minimizing the pain reaction.
- Opioids: Some studies show that acupuncture can trigger the release of natural opioids. These brain chemicals soothe the body and induce sleep.
More research is needed to determine exactly what happens in the brain and body in response to acupuncture, but science leaves little room for doubt as to its effectiveness. It is likely that acupuncture triggers a cascade of complex brain and body reactions that work together to produce powerful results.
At Thumos Health Center, we are committed to providing each patient with a personalized, integrative solution to complicated pain issues. We are always happy to work with your Western doctors to create a fully-realized treatment plan that not only addresses your pain, but supports your body’s journey toward optimum health and wellness.
Located in Pacific Palisades, with satellite clinics in Santa Monica, Sherman Oaks, and Beverly Hills, Thumos Health Center offers patients exceptional personalized care. If you are ready to take the first steps toward a more integrative approach to your health care, we invite you to phone (323) 372-5150 to schedule an appointment at any of our Los Angeles locations. Our highly knowledgeable and friendly staff will be happy to answer any questions or concerns you might have.