How Acupuncture Helps Back Pain

Back pain is the second most common reason for doctor visits, the most common cause of missed work days and is one of the largest expenses of our health care system in the United States. Eighty percent of adults will experience some back pain in their lives. Unless there is obvious trauma from an accident, the root causes of back pain are poorly understood. Western medicine usually treats it with drugs, physical therapy or surgery, yet, many people are unable to find relief.
Most episodes of back pain will resolve within three to twelve weeks. Some back pain will become chronic with repeated episodes of worsening pain or ongoing pain. Anyone who has experienced back pain knows what a frightening and life disrupting experience it can be.
Acupuncture offers a non invasive treatment for back pain that can shorten acute episodes and stop acute back pain from becoming chronic. Recent studies have shown that acupuncture is frequently effective in relieving back pain. But the results fall short of acupunctures true potential because these studies are based on a western scientific model which requires the same set of points to be used with each treatment.
In a typical Chinese Medicine clinic five patients might come in with back pain and each person will have a different diagnosis requiring the use of different acupuncture points. Because symptoms change each treatment will also usually require different points. When acupuncture treatment is based on a proper Chinese Medicine diagnosis the most benefit can be derived.
In Chinese Medicine and acupuncture everything starts with the flow of Qi or vital life force. Qi flows along energy pathways throughout the body called meridians. The meridians are grouped into energy systems that support the organs and physical, emotional and mental functions. Chinese Medicine teaches that the Blood, or vital body fluids, follows Qi so when Qi is stuck or deficient eventually Blood will be as well. Whenever Qi and Blood flow are disrupted there will eventually be pain and disease.
Qi and Blood stagnation or deficiency are two of the most common root causes of back pain. The flow of Qi and Blood can be disrupted suddenly by local trauma such as a car accident or lifting too heavy an object. It can be disrupted slowly over years by poor posture, repetitive overuse or chronic emotional stress tightening the muscles. Usually there are a combination of causes that must all be addressed in order to resolve the problem. Acupuncture needles inserted into the appropriate points normalize the Qi flow, relax the muscles and relieve the pressure on the nerves alleviating the pain.
Simple Qi and Blood stagnation can be complicated by an invasion of Cold and Damp or Damp Heat as seen in infections or arthritic conditions. Various warming or cooling treatments can be used along with the acupuncture such as moxabustion, cupping or Chinese Herbs.
The most common cause of chronic low back pain is a deficiency of the Qi of the Kidney energetic system. This energetic system supports the strength of the low back and legs. It holds the inherited Ancestral Qi of the body. This Qi is used up over our lifetime and when it is gone our time is up. In Chinese Medicine effort is made to continually protect the Kidney Qi. Our non-stop life styles with too little rest and too much stress tend to deplete the Ancestral Qi. One of the first signs of that depletion is gradual onset, chronic low back pain.
Moxabustion is a technique where an herb is used to heat up an acupuncture point and is very effective at restoring Kidney Qi. Chinese herbs are also helpful. Lifestyle changes are an important part of proper treatment including stress reduction, rest, appropriate exercise and stretching.
Acupuncture is not a quick fix. Except in accidents most back pain has deeper causes rooted in unhealthy habits and emotional stress. The balancing effects of acupuncture take time and patience. The occasional one treatment miracle fix happens but is rare.
Acupuncture offers an opportunity to work with oneself more deeply and bring not just the muscles but the spirit back into a balance which underlies true health.

Kathleen MacGregor has been an acupuncturist since 1988. She practices Five Element Acupuncture at her Meiners Oaks office, 137 W. El Roblar Dr. 805-646-6581
To read more about Five Element Acupuncture see her web site;


Chinese Medicine and Winter


Kathleen  MacGregor L. Ac.

In the Five Element system of Chinese Medicine winter is the season that corresponds to the  element of water.  The five elements, like the seasons, illustrate the endless changing and transforming that is  the nature of the flow of Qi, or life force.  The patterns of the Five Elements are seen in all natural phenomena including our own body, mind and spirit.  In order to find health and balance within ourselves it is helpful to understand the nature of the Five Elements; Water, Wood, Fire, Earth and Metal.

I was watching  National Geographic  on the life of beavers in the Colorado mountains.  In the spring the young beaver leaves his parents secure pond and explores the waterways to find a mate and a place to build his own home.  For this lucky beaver nature provides an available female and the pair spend the summer courting and playing eventually finding the perfect spot to build their new nest.

Soon the air is cooling, leaves are falling and there is an urgency to secure their shelter and store enough green saplings in their pond to feed them through the winter.  Inexperienced in providing for themselves the young couple are unable to store enough food.  Unlike his parents who are snug in their den this young beaver must leave his pond, breaking through ice and trudging through snow in the worst of the winter storms to forage for enough food to survive.  Fortunately, being young, strong and determined and by conserving their energy the pair endure and spring finds them busily enhancing their home and starting a family of their own.

This story illustrates the essence  of the Water element.  Winter is the time for rest and rebuilding, to protect our reserves and stores from the fall harvest so there can be new growth in the spring.  Without an inner winter we drain our inherited reserves which are finite.

When the Water element is in balance our drive and determination to make it through the lean times is strong.  We have the will to seek truth and clarity.  When Water is out of balance the associated emotion of fear arises.  This is the fear of an unknown future and of not having enough to survive. 

In Southern California  our winter is the rainy season.  Many of us don’t take the opportunity to slow down and look inward that the rains offer.  We end up exhausted and burned out. Winter can be a cleansing time.  Water detoxifies us.  It keeps us lubricated and flexible.  Without water our joints stiffen, our thinking becomes stagnant and our spirit becomes depleted.

When the Water element is depleted an acupuncturist might use an acupuncture point on the Kidney channel called Spirit Storehouse which re-connects a person with their inner strength.  Another choice might be Rich for the Vitals Correspondence which builds vital force on all three levels of body, mind and spirit.

In order to keep our Water element strong we might pay attention to the lessons of nature.  In winter take the time to slow down and re-generate.  Connect with our qualities of will and motivation.  Allow the seeds of autumn to compost and be nurtured.  Then the ambition and determination of  the water element will allow for new growth and possibilities in spring.     

Kathleen  MacGregor is a Five Element Acupucturist with an office in

Meiners Oaks.  She can be reached at 805-646-6581