It gives me great pleasure in being able to write my first article for The Acupuncture Clinic. Working with my mentors and colleagues John Kennedy and Heiko Lade is truly a great honor and I feel privileged to be invited to work with them. Many people ask me what they do nowadays for back pain treatment in China and has it changed over the centuries. There have been many advancements in modern medicine in particular with x-rays and MRI as well as scientific knowledge and the workings of anatomy.
Mixing ancient wisdom with modern science
Ancient Chinese medical practitioners didn’t have the understanding of the modern day nervous system and only used the traditional meridian system. Now we have the best of both worlds. For example, modern anatomy gives us the knowledge about dermatomes and how the spinal nerves distribute throughout the body. This can be exemplified in sciatica where the location of the pain, numbness and weakness can tell us at which level the disc is involved. When we know where the disc is damaged, we can then apply acupuncture and moxibustion to that area of the lumbar region. This can then for example help us treat herniated disc more effectively by getting the root cause of the problem. Using acupuncture and moxibustion at the correct disc level can improve outcomes.
Treat the spleen to treat the muscles
Often my back pain treatments incorporate a combination of the modern with the ancient. Let me give an example. Using my traditional thinking, I refer to the ancient saying that “the spleen controls the flesh” aka the muscles so I use an acupuncture needle technique to specifically tonify and supplement the spleen energy. These points could be on the wrist and the foot which often surprises patients because the needles are no where near the injury or painful area. Then I have the option to use electro-acupuncture where I insert needles attached to a low voltage electro-machine which emanates a gentle pulse like sensation. This may be done at the local area near the injury or targets the dermatome area to feed back to the origination of the injury site. From my own personal experience however, I prefer to use moxibustion and use electro-acupuncture as a back up option.
Moxibustion and traditional heat therapy
Moxibustion is used extensively in the hospitals in China for acute and chronic back problems. From a western medical view point, a back sprain will have inflammation and therefore heat at the area of injury. Ironically, Chinese medical theory advocates the use of heat in the form of moxibustion which actually brings more heat to the area. Chinese medicine thinking here is quite simple, more heat brings more blood to the area to stimulate the body to repair itself. Even modern medicine research has shown that areas of inflammation attract an increase in stem cells which promote recovery of the injury.
Tui Na (Traditional Chinese Massage)
Tui Na is a specific method of Chinese massage used in the rehabilitation of injuries. Tui Na is usually performed first to loosen up the area, and help increase the circulation of energy and blood so that the acupuncture treatment afterwards is enhanced. Again, to the surprise of many patients, the area of the massage is often away from the actual pain site. For example, sometimes I massage above the elbow to treat a shoulder problem or I massage on the front of chest under the clavicle to treat problems on the back near the shoulder blade. You can read more about Tui Na on another post that I have written here.
Cupping and treating back pain
Cupping is also an old age traditional technique still being regularly used in the modern medical hospital system in China. Read more about cupping here.
Working in with your doctor
I like to work in cooperation with the patient’s doctor so they can monitor any medication changes and if need be, refer on for x-rays and other tests. If you have any medical reports or results of scans please bring them in on your first visit.
ACC and back injuries
In New Zealand, ACC covers acupuncture for most back injuries and acupuncturists who are members of Acupuncture NZ can use acupuncture, electro-acupuncture, moxibustion and cupping as part of their scope of practise.