TCM for Back Pain - Using Acupuncture & Chinese Herbs for Back Pain Relief

TCM for Back Pain - Using Acupuncture & Chinese Herbs for Back Pain Relief

Back Pain According to TCM
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TCM for Back Pain Symptoms

Doctors of Traditional Chinese Medicine see back pain differently. Where Western doctors see a  nerve, TCM doctors notice the flow of energy (qi). To the practitioner of Chinese medicine, pain means simply that flow is obstructed. The obstruction may be visible or invisible.

Chiropractors and bodyworkers can sometimes relieve back pain by adjusting the vertebra, temporarily freeing the flow of qi. But, sadly, adjustment does not  often correct the root of aberrant qi.

TCM doctors often relieve back pain, because Chinese medicine is about paying attention to what influences the flow of qi. We understand that ultimately, qi is influenced by both mind and matter, and that Qi will influence mind and matter as well.  Substance and structure will ultimately conform to the qi.

Causes of Back Pain


‘When there’s pain, there’s no flow.  When there’s flow, there’s no pain” goes a famous saying in Chinese medicine.

There are many flows of energy traversing the back.  These channels are known by names like the Governing Vessel, Urinary Bladder Channel, and DAI Channel. Much back pain is a sign of obstruction or constraint of qi in these channels. Old or new injuries, emotional constraint, anatomical obstructions, and other events can constrain or block flow in these channels.

Rising heat congests the upper back, neck, and shoulders.

Upper back pain is commonly caused by interior heat which rises in the channels (heat rises) and lodges in the neck, shoulders, and head.  This results in an excess of energy in the muscles creating muscle tension.

Deficient Qi (Energy) weakens the lower back, as the ‘Kidney’ is the repository of qi.  This means that energy is stored in the low back, keeping the back strong, and holding the spine erect. Depletion of this energy (kidney qi) will weaken the lower back and the flow of qi,  causing ache and enabling injuries to occur. Stress, injury, illness, overwork, excessive sex, drugs, and overstimulation of the brain, drain the kidney qi and weaken the lower back.

Herbal Remedies for Back Pain

Upper Back Pain

A commonly used herbal formula for this condition is GE GEN Tang (Pueraria Combination). A similar tablet version is Pueraria 10 tablets.
Lower Back Pain 
The most often used formula for any kind of low back, or lower body pain is Du Huo Ji Shen Wan aka Low Back Pill. This formula is excellent for helping circulation in the lower body, but it’s action as a kidney strengthener is mild.

Lower Back Pain

The oldest and most trustworthy medicine for strengthening kidney energy, both yin and yang is called Gui Fu Di Huang Wan or Jin Gui Di Huang Wan or Sexoton pills. It’s many names testifies to its ancient and widespread use.
If your deficiency is clearly a Kidney YANG deficiency, with accompanying signs of coldness, remedies such as Chuang Yao Tonic Pills are useful as well. Kidney YIN deficiencies can be treated with Liu Wei Di Huang, or Da Bu YIN Wan.


For most acupuncturists, back pain is their most common treatment. One of the reasons for this is how effective acupuncture is for back pain. Another reason is how ineffective Western medicine is for this problem.

Study Shows Acupuncture Trumps Standard Care for Back Pain Relief.
By Kathleen Doheny.
WebMD Health News
- Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD.

May 11, 2009 -- The ancient technique of acupuncture helps relieve chronic back pain better than standard care such as medications or physical therapy, according to a new study. Even more surprising, all three acupuncture techniques tested -- including a "sham" technique with toothpicks and no skin puncturing -- worked better than the usual care given for the problem.
"Acupuncture-like treatments had a positive effect overall on people's chronic back pain," says study researcher Dan Cherkin, PhD, a senior investigator at Group Health Center for Health Studies in Seattle. "It didn't matter if you inserted the needle or superficially poked [the skin]."

That finding, Cherkin says, leads to more speculation about how the centuries-old technique actually works.
The study is published in the Archives of Internal Medicine.

Cherkin and colleagues assigned 638 men and women with chronic low back pain who had never before had acupuncture to one of four groups:
• Individualized acupuncture group. Patients received acupuncture treatment based on a customized prescription for acupuncture points.
• Standardized acupuncture group. Patients received an acupuncture treatment considered effective by experts for chronic low back pain.
• Simulated acupuncture group. Patients received a treatment that mimics needle acupuncture but used a toothpick in a needle guide tube without penetrating the skin.
• Usual care group. Patients continued whatever they were doing, such as taking pain medicine or undergoing physical therapy.
Acupuncture treatments were given two times a week for three weeks, then once a week for four weeks. The researchers measured back pain-related problems and dysfunction at eight weeks, a half year, and one year after the treatments.

Participants in the trial, funded by the National Institutes of Health, were told only that the researchers were comparing three different methods of stimulating acupuncture points.

Acupuncture vs. 'Usual Care'
"The individualized acupuncture did not provide any benefit over the standardized acupuncture," Cherkin tells WebMD. "The simulated acupuncture, which did stimulate the standardized points, also had the same effect. All three did better than usual care."
Those who got any of the acupuncture treatments were more likely than those getting usual care to have a "meaningful" improvement in the dysfunction scale, which reflects the ability to engage in activities of daily living. Overall, 60% of the acupuncture-treated patients, but just 39% of the usual-care group patients, had meaningful improvements in dysfunction, the researchers found.



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