The back is an intricate structure consisting of bones, muscles, tendons, ligaments and disks. Back pain can be caused by problems affecting any of these structures. Sometimes it is difficult to diagnose a cause for back pain.
Most common forms of back pain:
1. Muscle or ligament strain
These may be caused by heavy lifting or sudden movement. Very often a muscle spasm is the cause of back pain. Any strain may be caused or aggravated by external pathogens such as wind and cold. Chinese Medicine states that these are problems of Qi flow or energy flow (as opposed to problems with structure)
2. Problems with structure:
Bulging or ruptured disk. The disks form a cushion between the vertebrae of the spine. The exterior of the disks are composed of a tough, fibrous material and a soft pulpous core. Sometimes a weakness in the fibrous wall causes the disk to bulge, or a slit occurs in the fibrous exterior and the soft material inside the disk is squeezed out and may press on a nerve. However, many people show herniated or bulging disks on MRI examination, yet do not experience any pain.
Sciatica. If a muscle spasm, arthritic changes or a herniated disk presses on the main nerve that travels down the leg, it can cause sciatica, a sharp, shooting pain radiating to the buttock and back of the leg.
Arthritis. Any joint in the body may be affected by osteoarthritis, but the lower back, hips, knees and hands are the most common sites for arthritic changes. In some cases, bone spurs from arthritis can cause a narrowing in the space around the central or peripheral spinal canals, referred to as spinal stenosis.
Abnormal spinal curvature. Back pain may occur if there are skeletal irregularities such as scoliosis or Scheuerman’s disease. The natural curves in the spine become exaggerated, the upper back may look abnormally rounded or the lower back may arch excessively.
Osteoporosis. If the bones become brittle or porous, compression fractures may occur in the spinal vertebrae.
Rare but serious conditions:
Some conditions affecting the spine may be rare but serious. These include: cancer of the spine, infection of the spine, spinal meningitis and cauda equina syndrome. This is a very serious condition where the nerve roots that innervate the legs and lower back are compressed leading to permanent numbness in the groin, loss of bowel and bladder control and paralysis.
Treatment with Acupuncture and Traditional Chinese Medicine:
Back pain that is caused by energy problems, such as muscle spasm, sprains or strains are usually easy to treat and improvements may be expected within a few treatments. The treatment consists of acupuncture, moxibustion, cupping, massage and herbal medication. The goal is to normalize energy flow through the affected tissues, or if bruising is expected, to resolve the bruising and activate blood circulation. If caused by exposure to external pathogens such as wind and cold, the goal is to warm the muscles, activate energy circulation and remove the wind.
Chronic back pain is often caused by a condition that affects the bones and spinal structures. In TCM the bones and spine are associated with the Kidney. Many herbal formulas and treatment protocols are designed to strengthen the Kidney, nurture the bones, improve the structures of the disks and ligaments, reduce disc herniation and arrest pain. Depending on the cause, severity of structural damage, treatments for these structural problems may take longer to heal. It is not uncommon to treat herniated discs for a period of three to four months. The great advantage of treatments with TCM is that the cure is an actual repair of the tissues, a ceasing of the arthritic changes and a restoration of a more youthful spine. The use of surgery, although sometimes unavoidable, can cause problems to crop up in the structures above and below the treated vertebrae.
Treatment for arthritis: Changes and inflammation affecting joints may sometimes be caused by several factors including a poor diet and insufficient exercise but are primarily caused by traumatic injury, overuse, weakening of the bones and affliction by wind cold and damp exopathogens such as damp, cold weather. Acupuncture is very effective in arresting the pain and inflammation associated with arthritis. Another equally effective treatment is Chinese herbal medicine. The herbs act as anti-inflammatory agents, reduce pain, restoring normal joint function and by healing and lubricating the joints from within. With the proper herbal supplements, arthritic changes completely cease and the joint is able to heal. Some of the herbs used for this purpose include Cinnamon Twig, Mulberry Twig, Tumeric, Gentian Vine, Homalomena and Eucommia. This is just a short selection of over 100 substances that are commonly used in our clinic. We literally treated and continue to provide maintenance care for thousands of patients with arthritis.
Treatment for sciatica: As it is caused most commonly by herniated disks and arthritic changes, the main emphasis of the treatment consists in removing the herniated disc material from the spinal canal. The body has its own mechanism to reabsorb and remove the pulpous liquid that has been squeezed out of the disk. This mechanism requires energy supply, increased blood circulation and improved lymphatic drainage from the affected tissue. Acupuncture is very effective as an energy pump that aids in the circulation of ionic current. The acupuncture directs this current to the affected vertebra, thus speeding up the healing. Herbal formulas are usually composed of several aspects. First they act as antispasmodics to reduce muscle spasm and nerve inflammation. Secondly they contain blood activating substances to facilitate better blood circulation, and finally theycontain herbs that help to dry out and reabsorb the mucous like substance that has leaked out of the disc. The combination of these approaches speeds up healing and may reduce recovery time by two thirds.
Treatment for Osteoporosis: Most commonly seen in women, especially after menopause, osteoporosis is a condition afflicting the bones and skeletal system that is energetically associated with the Kidney in TCM (Traditional Chinese Medicine). Individuals with weak Kidney energy as a general rule have a greater chance to develop serious osteoporosis. However, be aware that the term Kidney is to be taken in the sense of TCM rather than in the biomedical sense. For more information on the relationship between organs and body structures, please refer to any good texts describing Chinese Medicine and Acupuncture. Hormones such as estrogens, or testosterone, adrenaline, andosteron, androstenedione, DHEA and others are all involved in one way or another in the ability to maintain strong bones. Many of those hormones are secreted by the kidney, adrenals and gonads.
Acupuncture and herbal medicine may be used as a preventative measure to prevent osteoporosis, or as a healing method to “glue” calcium and minerals back into the bones. Many of the herbal substances used have powerful hormonal effects, but must be taken for prolonged periods of time. Courses of three to four years are not uncommon but they bring with them a rejuvenation of the whole body and actually make people biologically younger. This is anti aging medicine at its best.