How Acupuncture Can Help Relieve Chronic Back Pain

How Acupuncture Can Help Relieve Chronic Back Pain| HealthSoul

If acupuncture didn’t help relieve stress and pain, this traditional Chinese medicine practice wouldn’t still be sought out for roughly 3,000 years after its origin. To provide a deeper look into how acupuncture can help relieve chronic back pain, we called Dr. Brandon Claflin in Oklahoma, an expert spine and pain management doctor, to provide his insight. He is the co-founder of Oklahoma Interventional Spine and Pain clinic. You can learn more about Dr. Claflin here. 

According to Dr. Brandon Claflin, “For many of my patients, acupuncture is a key part of an overall plan to relieve chronic back pain. Acupuncture is a non-invasive treatment, with hardly any negative side effects, that collaborates well with spine and pain management treatment plans. Therefore, it is worth trying at the beginning instead of as your last resort.” 

He goes on to share how he creates a unique treatment plan for each patient based on testing, lifestyle, and medical history. This plan can include working with neurologists, psychologists, orthopedic and spine surgeons/neurosurgeons, physiatrists, oncologists, physical/occupational therapists, chiropractors, psychiatrists, and, of course, acupuncturists. No two patients are exactly the same; therefore, neither should their treatment plans.

A quick guide to acupuncture by Dr. Claflin

This guide simply provides a quick overview of how acupuncture can support relieving chronic back pain. In no way is it comprehensive, or tailored specifically to your needs. Please talk with your doctor before trying anything new. 

How does acupuncture work?

Traditional Chinese medicine (TCM), which consists of acupuncture, tai chi, and herbal products, explains acupuncture as a technique for balancing the flow of life force (energy) — qi or chi  (pronounced “chē”). Qi is believed to flow through pathways (meridians) in your body. Acupuncture needles are fine, thin needles that go into your skin at specific points along your meridians. Through thousands of years of research and practice, TCM has compiled complete and complex systems of meridians to help regulate and move your body back to homeostasis, or wellness.

In Western understanding, acupuncture points are seen as areas that stimulate nerves, muscles, and connective tissues, potentially enhancing the body’s natural pain-relieving mechanisms. If you’re seeking answers about acupuncture, an acupuncture clinic can provide insights and treatments based on these approaches to promote health and alleviate discomfort.

What will happen during a session?

First, your acupuncturist should thoroughly review your medical history and symptoms. Next, they may do a complete body exam and look at your tongue to further find imbalances in your body. During the treatment part, an acupuncturist will insert very thin needles into strategic places throughout your body. For example, if you are experiencing lower back pain, you may get needles placed in unexpected areas, such as your hands, knees, or feet, since acupuncture focuses on your meridians. The goal is to unblock the qi in your body that is causing chronic back pain. Stress, environmental factors, lifestyle behaviors, genetics, etc., can cause blocked qi (energy).

Acupuncture can be a very relaxing experience. Often my patients enjoy a quick nap or at least experience 30 minutes of zen (meditation). 

The needles

The needles are made of copper or stainless steel and slightly thicker than a human hair. They range from 26 to 40 gauge and have lengths from 0.5 inch to 2.5 inches. Since these needles are incredibly thin and nimble, they do not hurt, unlike getting a needle inserted to draw blood or get a vaccine. People often call them a “painless needle.”  A qualified acupuncturist will only use single-use needles so there is no risk of infection. 

Depending on your needs, the acupuncturist may move, heat, or apply electrical pulses to the needles to increase their effectiveness. A session typically lasts about 15-30 minutes. Many people notice pain relief in as little as 3-5 sessions. However, doctors may recommend a patient go to a weekly or bi-monthly session for several months, or even years in some cases. 

How does acupuncture reduce pain?

Acupuncture has been studied rather extensively by researchers in the United States, China, and many other countries. While there is still more to scientifically discover about the benefits of acupuncture, here’s what we know now:

  • Acceleration of electromagnetic signals. The needles may increase the rate of your nerves’ electromagnetic signals. This causes your body to release immune cells, which can also be painkilling chemicals.
  • Changes in brain chemistry. It can cause your brain to release neurotransmitters and neurohormones that impact how your nerves and organs function.
  • Stimulation of the central nervous system. When needles are inserted into your acupuncture points, they may stimulate the central nervous system. This can cause your body to release healing chemicals into your brain, muscles, and spinal cord.
  • Release of natural opioids. Your brain might create natural opioids that relieve pain and improve your mood. Another reason that acupuncture is used, is to help with depression and anxiety mood disorders.

Acupuncture points for chronic back pain

For lower back pain, an acupuncturist will typically place needles in your:

  • Knees
  • Feet
  • Lower back
  • Hands
  • Hips
  • Stomach

For upper back pain or thoracic back pain, an acupuncturist will typically place needles in your:

  • Head
  • Neck
  • Shoulders
  • Upper back

People use acupuncture for a wide range of health issues, including:

  • Post-surgery recovery
  • Sciatica
  • TMJ (temporomandibular joint disorder)
  • Headaches
  • Fibromyalgia
  • Musculoskeletal pain
  • Nausea
  • Menstrual cramps
  • Tennis elbow
  • Mood disorders

Acupuncturists could also add complementary stimulation therapies to your session. These therapies could include suction (cupping), pressure (acupressure), heat (moxibustion), and impulses of electromagnetic energy.

If you need more complex support for your chronic back pain, my comprehensive pain clinic offers a number of therapies and services. They include medial branch block injection, epidural steroid injection, radiofrequency ablation and more. I’d love to hear your story and see how my team can help!

“Pain is preventable. You just have to do the work and seek proper care from spine and pain management experts.” – Dr. Brandon Claflin of Oklahoma.


Please note: always talk to your doctor before trying anything new.