The back is an intricate structure consisting of bones, muscles, tendons, ligaments, and discs. 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 movements. A muscle spasm is very often 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 related to the flow of qi (energy) as opposed to structural issues.
2. Problems with structure:
Bulging or ruptured disc. The discs form a cushion between the vertebrae of the spine. The exterior of the discs are composed of a tough, fibrous material surrounding a soft, pulpous core. Sometimes a weakness in the fibrous wall causes the disc to bulge, or a slit occurs in the fibrous exterior and the soft material inside the disc is squeezed out which may then press on a nerve. However, many people who show herniated or bulging discs on MRI examination do not experience any pain.
Sciatica. If a muscle spasm, arthritic changes, or a herniated disc presses on the main nerve that travels down the leg, it can cause sciatica - a sharp, shooting pain that radiates to the buttock and down the 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 which is 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. Cauda equina syndrome 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 spasms, 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 and, if bruising is expected, 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 (Traditional Chinese Medicine), 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 discs and ligaments, reduce disc herniation, and arrest pain. Depending on the cause and severity of the structural damage, treatments for these 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, ceasing of the arthritic changes, and restoration of a more youthful spine. The use of surgery, although sometimes unavoidable, can cause problems that crop up in the structures above and below the treated vertebrae.
Treatment for arthritis: Changes and inflammation affecting joints may be caused by several factors, including a poor diet and insufficient exercise, but are primarily due to 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, reducing pain, restoring normal joint function, and 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 have treated and continue to provide maintenance care for literally thousands of patients with arthritis.
Treatment for sciatica: As it is caused most often by herniated discs and arthritic changes, the main emphasis of the treatment consists of 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 disc. This mechanism requires an energy supply, increased blood circulation, and improved lymphatic drainage from the affected tissues. Acupuncture is very effective as an energy pump that aids in the circulation of the body's ionic current and directs this current to the affected vertebra, thus speeding up the healing process. Herbal formulas used to treat this condition are usually composed of several aspects: first they act as antispasmodics to reduce muscle spasm and nerve inflammation; secondly they contain blood activating substances that facilitate better blood circulation; and finally they contain 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. 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, 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.