You never quite realize how often you use the muscles in your back or neck… until they start to hurt. Many people suffer from back and neck pain, whether the root cause is an injury, stress, age, or a preexisting condition. In Western medicine, it is common to prescribe drugs like anti-inflammatories, muscle relaxers, or painkillers to help patients cope with back and neck pain; and sometimes even surgery may be recommended. These treatments can cause a number of negative side-effects, including drug dependency or (in the instance of surgery) reduced mobility and long recovery periods. Acupuncture is a safe alternative treatment for back and neck pain that has become increasingly popular over the years, due to its effectiveness and lack of side effects.
How Does Acupuncture Treat Back and Neck Pain?
Acupuncture is an ancient Chinese medical practice that primarily involves using small, very fine needles to stimulate different sites on the body (called Acupoints or meridians) i . Stimulating these sites enhances the body’s own natural healing mechanisms, and causes the release of Serotonin and Endorphins. The aim of this practice is to balance the energies (or qi) in the body, which will ultimately promote physical, emotional, and mental health in the patient ii .
Multiple studies have been done that show that acupuncture is certifiably more effective in treating pain than a placebo, and that long-term results for pain management are on par with the results achieved through using morphine. Because acupuncture does not carry a risk of addiction or dependency, many doctors have begun to recommend acupuncture as the preferred therapy for chronic pain management iii . In one study done in Melbourne, acupuncture was shown to offer the same level of pain relief as analgesic drugs iv .
As mentioned before, acupuncture also stimulates the release of Serotonin, which is the body’s feel-good neurotransmitter that is responsible for regulating moods, restful sleep, and pain management. Endorphins, which are a natural painkiller, are also released during acupuncture treatment, and generally result in an immediate decrease in the patient’s level of pain v . Both of these can help relax the tense muscles that are often the source of back and neck pain. Acupuncture may also have a positive effect on reducing inflammation, which can be a contributor to back and neck pain, and can reduce mobility of those joints vi . Specific acupuncture techniques can release myofascial trigger points (TrP’s) which are tight, dysfunctional sections of muscle which cause pain.
Acupuncture is a very versatile treatment that works well on its own, or as a supplemental therapy to other Western medical methods like physical therapy, surgery, or pharmacological prescriptions. Currently, about 80% of GP’s have referred their chronic pain patients to accredited acupuncturists for supplementary treatment, and many have even undergone acupuncture training themselves vii .
Acupuncture is a safe alternative therapy that has been backed by the World Health Organization (WHO), the National Institutes of Health (NIH), and several other prominent healthcare organizations. While it is not a panacea (a cure-all remedy), acupuncture has had documented, positive effects on many pain-related conditions and injuries. If you feel that acupuncture is an option to help manage your neck or back pain, be sure to talk with your primary care doctor and address any questions you may have.