Can Acupuncture Help Back Pain? What’s Involved?


In my continuous search for relief from my pain, I keep coming back to how helpful acupuncture has been for me. Can acupuncture help back pain?  In this article I will discuss some history about acupuncture and my experience in this alternative treatment. Hopefully you can then decide if acupuncture is a helpful remedy for inflammation and pain. Please note that I am not a medical professional and therefore these findings are based solely on my experience and research. Please see your primary care physician before you make the decision to visit an acupuncturist.

Brief History

Acupuncture treatments have a history dating back to 100 BC in China, first appearing in The Yellow Emperor’s Classic of Internal Medicine (Huangdi Neijing) according to Wikipedia. However, throughout China’s history, it became less practiced and was outlawed in 1929 (See A Brief History of Acupuncture). It gained popularity again around 1949.

In the US, it has only been popular in this last century. I still remember myself thinking that it was an odd and mysterious practice. But my pain drove me to look for any and all alternatives to find relief. It is recorded that a US press corps member was treated with acupuncture while recovering from an emergency appendectomy in China. This lead to US physicians investigating it’s reliability. However, acupuncture became acceptable in the US when a NIH conference reported positive evidence for its effectiveness. (See A Brief History of Acupuncture.)

Can Acupuncture Help Back Pain?
Bekaschiler/Pixabay – Illustration of Meridians

How Does It Work?

Chinese medicine is based on the flow of yin and yang, or qi in the body. Qi is the flow of energy within the body. The hypothesis seems to be that pain and inflammation can interrupt that flow. Acupuncture works at the neurohormonal level, adjusting the qi to stimulate the nerve. This then helps the nerve to function properly, to function healthfully.

It can apparently stimulate the hormones to function better as well. In fact it causes the body to release neurotransmitters that act as a natural pain killer, more powerful than morphine. So the results can be twofold; healthier body function and pain reduction. All of this accomplished without medication or surgery. The needles are placed along meridians in the body to affect the related painful areas. These meridians are a system that is part of acupuncture.

What’s Involved During a Visit?

You will be in a private room, like in a regular doctor’s office. You will most likely lie on a narrow table/bed on your back, side, or tummy. Or you may sit in a recliner. Depending on what part of the body receives the needle insertions, you may have to pull up your pants bottoms, pull down your pants or pull up your shirt. I never have to take off my clothes.

My doctor asks me about my pain, and treats me according to my response. I have been treated for colds, coughs and bouts with diverticulitis. But mostly I see him for my buttock pain. He then puts needles in my lower back, my right buttock (where the pain is) and my neck. Mostly all I feel is a slight tap; nothing painful. But to be honest, once in awhile it does hurt.

Not pain that is intolerable, but stinging enough for me to say something. That usually subsides within seconds. If not, he removes the “offending” needle. Once he has the number of needles he deems necessary (about 15) he attaches electrodes to four of them. These are attached to a machine that delivers an electric current. I concentrate on relaxing, and 90% of the time, I fall asleep.

I spend about an hour in the office including the preparation, the treatment, the resting during treatment and payment and making my next appointment.

You may or may not have electrodes attached. Cupping is another treatment that acupuncturists use. This involves placing a dome with an open end on the skin and creating a suction, either with heat or a hand held device. The cupping stimulates blood flow. My acupuncturist uses this occasionally, but not lately. I think that is because I am better, having less pain. He does do “scraping” which doesn’t feel too good, but is tolerable. I think it also stimulates the blood flow, bringing natural warmth to the painful areas.

A friend of mine who sees him for edema, diabetes, and glaucoma says he feels no pain at all. He too is able to nap during the treatment. He has seen reduction in his edema and with proper diet and medication is keeping his diabetes within a healthy A1C range. So you see that acupuncture may be used to treat many complaints. Talk to your doctor first. And call the acupuncturist to see if he treats your complaints.

Can acupuncture help back pain?

Other Concerns


My doctor charges $45.00 per visit, but takes insurance. In California you need to get a referral for insurance to cover it. But thankfully most insurances do. Otherwise, see what payments you can work out. I found that most acupuncturists are kind and caring people and want to help you feel better. Charges do vary so be sure to check that out before you get a surprise after your treatment!

Make sure your doctor is a certified acupuncturist.  Here in the US you can contact American Academy of Medical Acupuncture.  Find a doctor that takes time to listen to your complaints. It is my belief that no one knows my body better than I do and if the doctor isn’t willing to listen to me, then they don’t know how to treat me.

Side Effects

Not only does acupuncture have few side effects, but it is common knowledge that it has fewer than the common treatments for back pain.  This factor is huge for me because I dislike taking medication of any kind. 



You may also be interested in my other posts regarding acupuncture. See them here.

My doctor says that he wants to make me younger! Ha ha. But visualizing a younger healthier body is a good picture to have. Because of the whole body philosophy involved with acupuncture, it makes sense to have the brain on board too. He encourages me to stretch at home and to walk. I have found that the combination of his treatments, stretching and walking are my prescription to feeling better. And all natural! So yes, acupuncture is a helpful natural pain reliever and inflammation remedy.

Your treatment plan may be a bit different. I welcome your comments, questions and treatment plans. We need to help each other!


I am not a health care professional, only a fellow pain sufferer.  Please speak to your primary care physician before you try an alternate treatment like acupuncture.  


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