Back Pain – Will Men Turn To Acupuncture For Lasting Relief

In a clinical environment Men and Back Pain go together hand in hand. In Ireland the younger generations of men are starting to take care of their bodies, both physically and emotionally. Many are turning to fitness as a healthy realise of energy. Finally it is not seen as unusual that a man would want to take care of himself, and his body.

But I have noticed that there appears to be a particular age group of men in their mid-50’s to late 60’s that struggle with the self-care concept. Clinically speaking by the time they come into see me their back issue is pretty serious.

Back pain is the most popular reason men receive Acupuncture in Ireland. In the UK in 2016 the NHS removed its recommendation for Acupuncture as a treatment for back pain, due to not enough evidence to prove its worth. Since then in the US The Journal of Pain researchers with the Acupuncture trialists’ collaboration concluded that acupuncture is effective for the treatment of chronic pain, that the effects of acupuncture persist over time, and that the benefits of acupuncture cannot be explained away solely by placebo effect. 

 Office workers, and men that drive a lot for their work often experience muscular tension in the neck, shoulder and mid thoracic area of their backs. Poor posture, stress and poor diet can massively impact on this area of the back. 

We must look at lifestyle changes as well as treatment in order to create a long lasting treatment result. I believe my high success rates when treating all back pain, be it sciatica, prolapsed lumbar disc, muscular ligamentous lumbar strain, and osteoarthritis is my holistic approach to treating the back as well as the body.

In Traditional Chinese Medicine the lower back is governed by the kidney channel. This means that it is vital to maintain a healthy, free flow of kidney qi. When our bodies are put through emotional trauma, excessive fear, anxiety, depression, these can all deplete Kidney Qi. Over time this weakens the lower back and allows it to become more susceptible to injury. 

For men as they get older Kidney Qi begins to naturally deplete. This is part of the aging process. The gentle decrease of kidney qi has few symptoms unless the individual has had any of the following; what we would classify as a stressful existence, a job that requires a lot of emotional as well as physical effort over a long period of time, a diet that is lacking in nutrient value, lack of water and perhaps a hereditary back condition or chronic illness. All these often mean a male will develop either Kidney Yin Deficiency symptoms; these include nocturnal emissions, soreness and weakness in the lower back, dry mouth and throat, hearing problems, knee pain, ringing in the ears and spontaneous sweating.

Or Kidney Yang Deficiency symptoms such as cold limbs, aversion to cold, weak lower back.

​Our job as an acupuncturist is to diagnose whether a back pain is caused by Kidney Qi /Essence deficiency, Kidney Yin or Yang, or none of the above. It’s a fascinating medical system where diagnosis is key to the correct treatment programme.

I was very lucky that my post graduate training in Shanghai just so happened to be in a herniated lumbar disc ward in No 6 Peoples’ Hospital in Shanghai, China. Having fractured my own spine in 2003 I had developed a real passion for the relief of back pain. Anyone having suffered from any form of back trauma will understand just how debilitating a bad back can be.

In China I was amazed at their approach to treating backs. An MRI was carried out after a brief consultation; the results were brought up to Professor Wu (within minutes) and read by him, or a member of his team. Then 80% of the patients were given a treatment of Electro Acupuncture, Chinese Cupping, Moxibustion, Herbal Baths, Traction, and Tuina. People travelled from far and wide and stayed for up to two weeks to receive daily treatments. There were two pharmacies at the entrance of the hospital, one dispensing Traditional Chinese Herbs, all wrapped beautifully in paper, the other a Western Pharmacy, administering western anti-inflammatories. 

What I learnt in a relatively short space of time changed my life as a therapist forever. The results we got in the hospital were amazing. My confidence as a newly qualified Acupuncturist was on a high. My passion for treating back pain has never left me from that time, 16 years ago. Professor Wu only ever operated on a very low percentage of his patients presenting with Lumbar Spine Trauma. He always tried a combination of Eastern and Western medicine; his results made him a very popular man.

Research has shown acupuncture to cause the release of neurochemicals such as endorphins, serotonin and corticosteroids, all of which contribute to the reduction of pain and inflammation. Interestingly men coming into the Clinic in agony often fall into a deeply relaxing state, once the needles have been inserted. This is perhaps due to the endorphin release that happens during an acupuncture treatment. I use Infrared Therapeutic lamps which also aid relaxation of the body. 

To get to the root of an individual’s back, neck or shoulder pain points are often inserted into meridians flowing through the legs, ankles and hands. Dry needling may offer temporary relief from pain, but strengthening the energetic pathways that promote strength in the back, such as the Bladder and Kidney channel, offer a more long term solution.

A man with huge emotional stress, suffering with severe neck, and shoulder pain, will generally benefit from acupuncture points inserted into his heart, small intestine and liver channels. This may sound bizarre, but we must get to the root cause to offer lasting effect. Many men I meet hold huge amounts of frustration in their bodies, this often presents physically in tight tendons especially in the mid thoracic area of the back travelling up to the neck and shoulders. In TCM the emotions of frustration and anger and cleared through the Liver and Gallbladder channels. 

I always look at pain as a big red flag. My work is helping a body maintain balance, a free flow of Qi (energy/Life force), and blood through all the channels in the body. If there is a free flow, there is no pain. If there is no free flow, there is pain.

Each spine is unique, each muscle is formed from that individuals own movement. To get the best treatment I believe we must treat each person as exactly that, unique and individual. Having fractured my own spine I was incredibly cautious for any therapy on my spine. I understand men often feel very vulnerable when in pain, especially the neck and back area. Creating a relaxing environment whilst being treated helps the healing happen at a faster rate.

A treatment usually requires local points where the pain is present, then the magic distal points are put in. This is where Acupuncture really stands out from dry needling. I am a big fan of applying an electric current through the locally placed needles (using a tens machine) This was taught to me by one of the best, and for good reason, it works! Chinese Cupping  is often used after needling. Chinese Cupping received huge coverage during the last Olympics. Michael Phelps the US multi gold medal winning swimmer was a huge advocate of cupping therapy. Many athletes use acupuncture and cupping to bring fresh blood and qi to the injured area, which can speed up the healing process.

I have found that lifestyle changes, reducing sugar and refined wheat intake, or better still totally eliminating them, can really improve muscle health, especially in the back. 

After a treatment it is vital that the patient keeps fully hydrated and allows the spine to rest and heal. I have found 72 hours is the time it takes for patient to really start to feel the difference. After a course of acupuncture they should feel:

  • Reduced inflammation
  • Strengthen weak muscles
  • Improved range of motion (Golf Swing)
  • Increased Flexibility
  • Tissue Repair
  • Increased oxygen intake in the sight of trauma

We often look at vitamin C and Vitamin D both help increase calcium absorption in the body which promotes strong and healthy bones. Vitamin C is known to help in the healing process of fractured and broken bones as well as wounded muscles. Magnesium and B complex are supportive supplements whilst the body is healing. (It is always worth talking to a health care provider before taking any supplements, especially if you are on any medication or pregnant).

Think of your body as an engine, like an engine your body is only as good as the fuel you feed it. (Poor quality fuel over a long period of time means a poor running engine, where parts start to break down). Your body will only perform if allowed the appropriate rest time. As you would maintain your engine, this must also apply to your body.

When men honour their bodies with the right nourishment both emotionally and physically they generally find their bodies, including their backs, begin to become pain free.

 Katie Murphy Lic Ac MTCMCI

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