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Acupuncture for Back Pain: 5 Things You Might Not Know

There have been many studies done as to whether acupuncture is helpful for back pain, with mixed results on its effectiveness. However, some patients do find that acupuncture is helpful in relieving back pain. Before you begin acupuncture treatments, keep these things in mind.

1. How it works.

Most people are aware that acupuncture involves needles, but many are often unaware of how acupuncture actually works. I believe you should understand what treatment involves before you begin so that you can make the most informed decisions.

Acupuncturists insert very thin needles into different points of the body. The needles may barely break the skin, or be inserted deeper into muscle or fat layers. The needles are generally left in for about 15-30 minutes. The procedure is thought to trigger the release of natural opioids within the body, which help to control pain. It is also thought to stimulate electromagnetic points in the body, which can start the flow of pain-relieving endorphins within the body. Acupuncture is also believed to alter the secretion of neurotransmitters and neurohormones, which play a role in nerve impulses, in a way that reduces pain. Many people do not find acupuncture painful, but do sometimes report a tingling sensation; some report feeling relaxed or energized after acupuncture.

2. Serious complications are rare, but possible.

Few complications have been reported, but complications can arise if acupuncture isn’t done correctly. In the United States, acupuncture practitioners are required by law to use only sterile, one-time use acupuncture needles and dispose of them in proper hazardous waste containers. If you go to an acupuncturist and the needles aren’t sealed prior to use, don’t go ahead with the treatment. Use of nonsterile acupuncture needles brings risk of infection. Although rare, acupuncture can also result in punctured organs, collapsed lungs, and damage to the central nervous system if done incorrectly. This is why it is important to carefully select your acupuncturist if you decide to proceed.

3. Not all acupuncturists are equal.

You should never assume that someone claiming to be an acupuncturist is experienced and certified. Most states require a license to practice acupuncture, but training requirements to obtain a license can vary from state to state. Always check an acupuncturist’s credentials before receiving treatment. When in doubt, don’t move forward with the procedure.

4. Acupuncture isn’t for everyone.

Those who have bleeding disorders, seizure disorders, or infectious skin disorders or diseases should avoid acupuncture. Those who have pacemakers should also avoid acupuncture. Pregnant women should use extreme caution with acupuncture, avoiding needling in the abdominal area or lower back. Pregnant women should also avoid acupuncture in areas that might stimulate early delivery of the baby. It is important to select an acupuncturist that is well-trained and knowledgeable about these conditions to avoid complications.

5. Acupuncture shouldn’t take the place of healthcare for a back problem.

Studies by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) have shown that acupuncture may be effective for back pain, but it should not be used to delay treatment by a medical professional for a medical problem. If you are thinking about seeing an acupuncturist for your back pain, discuss it with your doctor. Your doctor can help you to determine whether acupuncture is safe for you to try, and may have suggestions or recommendations for qualified acupuncturists.

If you go to a well-trained, certified acupuncturist, you may find that it does supplement the care you receive from your doctor to help with your back pain. As with any treatment, it is important to be informed so that you can make the best possible decisions. Remember, just because it isn’t within the scope of traditional medicine doesn’t mean it’s always safe for you.