Acupuncture for Back Pain

by Mark Whalen

Acupuncture for Back Pain.  Shame on me.  It’s been two years and I haven’t written a blog about this yet.  Low back pain is one of the more common conditions treated in my clinic.  Not surprisingly, low back pain is also one of the more common conditions that we all may experience.

It is estimated that eighty percent of people will experience back pain at some point in their lives.   Back pain can range from acute (less than 3 months) to chronic (more than 3 months) and from mild to severe.

Anatomy of the Low Back

sacrum                          low back

The back is a complex area with lots of moving part.  The back plays a key role in supporting our weight, keeping us upright and allowing us to move in multiple directions.  When we discuss the lower back, we are looking at the five Lumbar vertebrae, the Sacrum and the Coccyx.   In between the vertebrae there are intervertebral discs that serve to cushion the bones and act as shock absorbers.  The Sacrum and Coccyx bones are fused together.

There are also multiple muscle groups helping to keep the back stable, and assist in movement.  Any of these muscles can be subject to strains, pulls or spasms.

Causes of Pain

The low back is more prone to injury due to the effects of aging, gravity and trauma.   A low back injury could affect the bones, muscles, discs or nerves.

As we age, the intervertebral discs lose some of their cushion and elasticity, leading  to Degenerative disc disease or arthritis.   The low back also takes the most force of compression over time.

The most obvious cause of back pain is trauma. This could be from a fall, car accident or from picking up a load that is too heavy.  All traumas could result in injury to the discs, muscles or the spine.

A herniated disc occurs when the disc bulges out to the side and compresses on a spinal nerve root.  Compression of a spinal nerve root can lead to pain, tingling and numbness.

There are numerous back muscles involved in keeping the back stable and it is not difficult to imagine pulling a muscle with repeated motions, or heavy lifting.  Back Spasms occur when a muscle is swollen or strained.  They can be quite painful, especially if they occur near a nerve route.  

The most well-known nerve pain associated with the lower back is Sciatica.  The Sciatic nerve runs from the lower back down the legs into the feet.  You may feel constant tingling and pain or sporadic pain that occurs with extending sitting or standing up after sitting.

Acupuncture Treatment

Back pain can range from annoying to debilitating depending upon the cause of your pain.   Common treatments typically involve rest, ice/heat, anti-inflammatories, cortisone shots and possibly surgery if nothing else works and the pain is debilitating enough.

Whether your pain is acute or chronic, mild or severe, Acupuncture can help reduce your pain.

Acupuncture involves the insertion of thin, pre-sterilized needles in various areas of the body to elicit a response.  Acupuncture stimulates the release of the opiods (pain killing chemicals) as well as adenosine- a natural pain killer with anti-inflammatory properties.

In cases like Sciatica or herniated discs, acupuncture works to reduce the inflammation that is leading to the pinching on the nerve, allowing the nerve to return to normal function.  With muscle strains or back spasms, acupuncture helps to relax the muscle by improving blood flow to the area and removing the inflammation.

Unlike a cortisone injection, which is given directly in the injured area, acupuncture needles do not have to be placed in an already injured area. By using a style of acupunture that focuses on distal treatments (ie-away from painful areas), we can achieve results without causing any additional discomfort.


Acupuncture treatment can be a great first step to helping you recover from your back pain.  It’s important to also work on strengthening and stretching the supporting structures to minimize the risk of injury in the future.

Find a stretching routine that includes the muscles of the back, the hips, the glutes (buttocks) and the hamstrings.   Never stretch cold—warm up first before stretching to avoid pulling a muscle.

Here’s a link to an excellent article from the NY Times in 2011 about caring for your back. 




Mark Whalen is a Licensed Acupuncturist and Board Certified Herbalist and the founder of Five Points Acupuncture & Wellness in Reading, MA.

Mark Whalen – who has written posts on Acupuncture Reading MA - Five Points Acupuncture & Wellness.


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Five Points Acupuncture & Wellness
20 Pondmeadow Dr #107, Reading, MA 01867
Phone: (781) 944-3000


Serving Reading, North Reading, Wakefield, Burlington and the surrounding Middlesex County, MA areas.

Zip Codes: 01730, 01810, 01867, 01880, 01821, 01803, 01864, 01876,
01887, 01915, 01923, 01940, 01949, 01960