The back is incredible. It supplies a solid support structure, enables us to carry incredibly heavy loads and also allows for rotation, extension and flexion. In order for our back to perform all of these tasks, there are multiple layers and patterns of muscle fibers that support the spine and each vertebra. In between each vertebra are discs, which have an outer shell and a squishy inside. The intervertebral discs allow the body a wide of array of movements and also absorb shock. We commonly treat patients with acupuncture who are told they have a “slipped disc,” “bulging disc,” or a “herniated disc.” Is this back pain being accurately diagnosed?
The complexity of the layers of muscles, tendons and ligaments in the back can make it incredibly difficult to diagnose the exact cause of back pain. MRIs and CT scans can see into the body but even these do not give us a clear picture of the muscles. What we can clearly see is the intervertebral discs. In many people, the scans will show a disc that is compressed, squished
and spilling out of the side or pushed out of place. Interlaced with these discs are many nerves. The compression of the disc can press on the nerves. This leads to the diagnosis of the various disc issues mentioned above. In these instances, is the disc the actual issue? It is certainly possible that a problem with the intervertebral discs could be the source of the pain. However, due to the complexity of the structure of the back, all too often the discs are getting the blame when, in fact, something else is pulling them all together.
When a patient comes in to get acupuncture for upper back pain, mid back pain or lower back pain, we palpate all of the musculature above and below the area. In past articles, there has been mention of vectors of muscle pulling, creating pathways of pain. When this happens in the back, it ends up putting pressure on the vertebrae often in an asymmetrical manner, closing the gap between the vertebrae forcing the disc to move, bulge or bubble out on one side. In this example the disc is affected and this affected disc could be irritating the nerve or pushing the nerve out of its normal pathway causing sciatic nerve pain, but is the disc to blame? No, the disc in this example is not the issue; it is just a byproduct of the muscles squishing the vertebrae together. Treating the disc will only temporarily “solve” the problem, not give permanent relief from pain.
What muscles are involved with back pain?
When we are palpating patients with back pain, we often find that we need to work with the deep layers of the back muscles. Directly next to the spine is the spinalis muscle. In those with disc issues, there is most likely one or several areas of tightness along this muscle. Slightly lateral to the spinalis is the longissimus. For those with pain in the low back and in the shoulders and neck, this muscle seems to always have multiple places with knots and tightness. In the area were longissimus connects to the spine, the piriformis and psoas muscles can also be affected. We will also need to palpate and evaluate the piriformis and psoas. These are only a few of the muscles we will need to evaluate during your treatment for back pain. Chinese medicine is the medicine of connecting the various functions and structures of the human body into one cohesive functional unit. This includes the bones, tendons, ligaments and musculature. These connections are what makes Chinese Medicine shine, treating the individual muscles does not help nearly as much as treating the whole cohesive functional unit.
How to relieve back pain
When treating back pain, we need to address the muscles that are pulling and shortened as well as the muscles that are lengthened and stretched. Many treatments start off with increasing blood flow using tuina massage and bodywork, acupuncture followed by some subtle movement work to further increase blood flow, ending with some stretching when appropriate. We will look at the hips, quads and hamstrings which pull from below the area of pain and then we will look above the area of pain in order to release some of the pulling from above. In addition to needling above and below, we will address the painful area directly so that we can reduce as much constriction and increase as much blood flow as possible to the painful area.
The ultimate goal is to return the flow of fresh blood as soon as possible. In order to maximize the body’s innate healing capabilities, it is of paramount importance to focus not only on the flow of blood to the site(s) but also the areas of entry and exit of the blood flow.
It is imperative to get to the root cause of your back pain and disc issues. With a misdiagnosis, you may spend years unsuccessfully trying to rid yourself of pain, while enduring unnecessary and costly procedures. Acupuncture provides a true solution by untangling the web of muscle knots, allowing more space in the vertebrae and actually relieving the disc compression. We have successfully treated back pain in many patients who sought other treatments just to eventually find themselves back at square one.
At Acupuncture Pain and Stress Center you will get more than a typical acupuncture treatment. Our style of acupuncture enhances the effects of needling by combining it with tuina massage, stretching and orthopedic movements to give you quicker and more effective results.
Our goal since 2010 has been to provide Raleigh, NC and its surrounding areas with the highest quality healthcare and compassionate patient-focused services. In addition to completion of a 4 year graduate program, we maintain a strong commitment to continuing education and ongoing research which ensures that we have the resources to provide you with exceptional, results-oriented acupuncture treatments.
If you keep doing exactly what you’ve been doing is your issue going to stay the same or worsen? Do something different and schedule your first appointment to determine if you are a good candidate for treatment. We pride ourselves on personalized treatments to get you results quickly so you can get back to enjoying life and doing the things you love.
Call (919) 260-4104 now, and I will be happy to answer any of your questions and get you booked for an appointment.