As a community acupuncturist who treats every patient face up in a reclining chair, I get asked this question all the time. There is a common misconception that the only way to treat back pain (or any sort of pain for that matter), is to stick acupuncture needles directly into the injured site. In the case of back pain, this would mean that the patient would need to be disrobed, lying face down on a massage table, so that the acupuncturist may place needles directly into the back.
While there is no doubt that this method of treatment (known as direct or “local” needling) is effective, it is not the only way to treat back pain. The cool thing about acupuncture is that there are many different styles and techniques that the acupuncturist can use to achieve results. And what’s even cooler is that they all WORK.
To give an example, let’s compare an acupuncturist to a guitarist. A guitarist goes to music school (or has a teacher or is self taught) to learn how to use their instrument. Once the guitarist learns the basics, (such as how to properly hold the guitar, the basic notes, chords, etc.,) they can then decide the style of music they would like to play. Whether they decide they want to play jazz, rock or country, it’s all music from a guitar and it’s all valid, even though it’s all different.
Similarly, an acupuncturist goes to acupuncture school to learn the basics (such as how to handle and dispose of needles safely, needling technique, theory, etc). Once they learn the basics, just like the guitarist, they can then decide which style of acupuncture they would like to practice. Whether they decide to practice local needling, distal needling, or any other of the various styles, it’s still acupuncture, it’s all valid and it all works, even though it’s different.
With that in mind, here at Yin Rising I practice a style of acupuncture for pain relief that is different from the local needling style that was mentioned earlier. It’s called the balance method (or “distal” needling) and it operates by using healthy parts of the body, that are far away from the injured site, in order to treat said injured site.
There is an old saying in Chinese Medicine that you “don’t spank the crying baby”, and this applies perfectly to the theory behind distal needling. To clarify, if a patient has back pain, it is already damaged (it’s the crying baby), and placing needles directly into this injured site is the equivalent of “spanking the crying baby.” By using distal needles away from the injured area, the acupuncturist is able to direct fresh blood flow and the body’s natural healing chemicals to the injured site, without causing any further damage.
The great thing about practicing this style of acupuncture is that the patient is able to remain fully clothed throughout the duration of their treatment, and may rest comfortably face up in their reclining chair. The acupuncturist will talk to the patient about the location and quality of the pain in order to determine which acupuncture points to select from.
The acupuncture point selection will be different depending on whether or not the back pain is down the spine, around the sacrum, mid-upper back, hips, whether or not the pain travels down the back or sides of the legs, etc. The acupuncture treatment will be tailor-made to each individual patient and their personal needs, but point selection will always include points on the arms and legs, and sometimes on the head or ear.
More often than not, this style of acupuncture is very quick and highly effective at helping the patient achieve pain relief. Frequently the acupuncturist may place one or two needles in say, the hand or the leg, and then ask the patient if they notice any changes in their pain. A lot of the time, the patient will notice a change fairly quickly, such as less intense pain, pain that has traveled to a new location, or pain that has disappeared entirely. Everybody’s experience is different and the acupuncturist never knows exactly how each patient will respond. However, the general concensus is that any change (even if it’s a negative change, such as an increase in pain), is a good thing because it means the injured site is responding in some way to the treatment.
I would also like to note that I understand completely that sometimes it is beneficial for a patient to have some TLC given to the local area that is bothering them. So in addition to using the balance method distal needling techniques, I may also apply soothing oils, creams or linaments and maybe massage or guasha to the bothersome area. I recommend that all patients wear loose fitting clothing so that I can easily access the area(s) of discomfort in order to apply oils or massage as necessary.
So, the take home message of this whole blog post is that it is absolutely possible to treat back pain while a patient is sitting face up in a chair. Back pain is probably the number one most common complaint I see here at Yin Rising, and I have helped many people get their back pain under control using distal needling techniques.
If you or anybody you know has been wanting to get some relief from back pain (or any other kind of pain), think about giving acupuncture a try. What have you got to lose?!
All the best,
Nicole Berrios, L.Ac.
Yin Rising Acupuncture
(located within Wellspring Holistic Health)
430 W. Warner Rd. Suite 104
Tempe, AZ 85284