Back pain is often what leads people to their first Acupuncture experience. It’s one of the most frequent complaints heard by medical professionals in general. 80% of Americans will experience back pain at some point during their lives, and worldwide, back pain is the single leading cause of disability.
Standard modern day approaches to back pain include physical therapy, pain medication and even surgery when severe, depending on the diagnosis. Acupuncture (just one of the many tools of Chinese Medicine) is a very cost-effective pain-relief option with a low risk of negative side effects. For mild cases, Chinese Medicine offers some self-care tips to try at home.
Rest & Exercise
The proper balance of yin and yang is the central tenet of Chinese Medicine, and when it comes to back pain, either extreme can be a cause. We can develop painful stagnant energy in our bodies from a sedentary lifestyle (extreme yin). On the flip side, we can deplete our yin with too much activity (extreme yang) leaving us susceptible to injury, withered muscles, and brittle bones. Ask yourself where the balance is needed. Sometimes for mild back pain, all that’s needed is a nap or a walk.
Hot & cold
Another way to address the yin/yang balance needed for a strong, pain-free back is with applications of hot and cold. First we need to figure out if the problem is too yang (hot) or too yin (cold). Usually acute issues involve more hot inflammation (yang), in which case a cold pack (frozen peas, anyone?) can be soothing. Whereas with chronic conditions, heat is often more appropriate to open stagnant channels and encourage qi and blood flow for healing.
Certain points on the body help to open the channels of the low back to relieve pain and stagnation. LI 4 (Joining Valley) is located in the fleshy depression just beyond the meeting point of the thumb and first finger bones and strongly stimulates qi and blood flow throughout the body. UB40 (Supporting Middle) is at the midpoint of the crease behind the knee and opens up the main channel that runs along the back. These are great points to massage gently for both chronic and acute back pain.
Tiger balm is a popular chinese salve for topical pain relief, but another bathroom cabinet essential is Zheng Gu Shui (Evil Bone Water), an herbal liniment that can be applied directly to the skin of the low back to penetrate with blood moving, pain relieving qualities.
There are great (free!) instructional videos available online that demonstrate specific qi gong exercises that support the low back, such as ‘Knocking on the Door of Life’ and ‘Spinal Chord Breathing’. For beginners, just a basic qi gong stance with some breathing can start to move the stuck qi. Wu Ji posture is thought to help bring the body into proper alignment. With feet shoulder-width apart and relaxed knees, roll your pelvis in, drop the shoulders but spread them open, tuck the chin and imagine the top of the head being pulled upward. Breathe slow, smooth and deep, and empty your mind. Feel your connection to the earth through the soles of your feet where your kidney channel begins at the indent just under the balls of the feet. It can also help to get barefoot in the grass on a sunny day!. Just this practice alone (if done regularly) can also completely change your response to stress, a major factor in pain perception.
These tips can go a long way in alleviating mild back pain, but be sure to book some acupuncture sessions to address root causes and give your body even stronger tools for rebalancing and pain relief.
Rebecca M H Kitzerow is a Licensed Acupuncturist practicing in La Center, Washington. With over a decade of experience she has won 10 Nattie consumer choice awards from Natural Awakenings Magazine since 2014.