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What causes back pain?

Stress and Trauma

Stress is the number one cause of back pain. Studies indicate that up to 90% of all back pain is psychological in nature rather than physical. That’s not to say there aren’t physical symptoms which cause pain but rather that the origin of those physical symptoms are psychological in nature.

The trauma mechanism that causes back pain:

When faced with stress or trauma our body’s instinctively curl into a ball to protect our soft centre and vital organs. The quickest way for this to happen is to contract the psoas muscle. The primary trunk flexor. When stress is ongoing the psoas continues to contract. At the same time we counter the forward contraction of the psoas by contracting the erector spinae muscles either side of the lumbar spine to hold us upright. These antagonistic muscles exert conflicting pressure upon the lumbar spine causing compression of the lumbar vertebrae and subsequent disc bulging.

in order to alleviate acute and chronic back pain, therefore, it is essential to relieve tension in the hip and trunk flexors, glutes and lumbar back muscles. It is also important to create strategies for dealing with stress and anxiety which may include Trauma Release Exercises, meditation, breathing techniques and other stress management practices.

The psoas (1) and iliacus (2) which make up the iliopsoas muscles

The TCM perspective

In Traditional Chinese Medicine Terms back pain can have a number of causes depending on where you experience it and how it effects you. Stress cannot be ruled out as a factor in all forms of back pain and acupuncture can be effective in treating the symptoms and effects of stress.

low back pain:

this is often related to some form of disharmony in the function of the kidneys. The kidneys are the organ which governs the low back area aswell as the bones in general. A weakness in kidney qi can manifest stiffness and pain in the joints – particularly ankle, knee and of course the sacro-iliac joint. Causes can include heigthened stress and over-work and can sometimes be accompanied by a feeling of not being supported.

Upper back pain

This can be due to disharmony in the function of the liver/gall bladder. The liver stores and governs the smooth flow of blood through the body, it rules the tendons and governs strength and physical power. Any break down in this functioning can lead to a stagnation of energy and blood, particularly in the upper back neck and shoulders area. This can be accompanied by a sense of frustration and/or anger

How do we treat it:

The combination of acupuncture, cupping and massage is often very effective in the treatment of back pain. Trigger point massage is effective in releasing tension in the muscles, cupping draws stagnation in the local area which causes pain and acupuncture helps to tonify move energy more effectively. Through acupuncture we also look to strengthen the associated organ and improve the underlying condition which has given rise to the pain in the first place.

We may also discuss exercises to help stretch and strengthen muscles, aswell as dietary and lifestyle changes which may facilitate longer term improvement.

How many treatments does it take:

The number of treatments required varies from patient to patient, however, in most cases the patient should notice some improvement after the first visit. While not an exact science, we usually notice an 80% improvement in symptoms within the first 2-3 visits. And a further 10% improvement within 5 visits.