The Acupuncture Clinic gets many inquiries as to how acupuncture treatment for disc herniation can help because people think that there needs to be some kind of manual intervention to put the disc back into the correct position.
When a disc of the spine herniates, it releases fluid which irritates and puts pressure on on nearby spinal nerves, leading to pain. Sometimes it may be a sciatic type pain down the leg or in the buttock. If the affected disc is in the neck it can lead to pain in the shoulder or hands.
Sometimes there is no pain in the back
This surprises people and can sometimes delay the correct diagnosis. Often people have gone to a therapist complaining of thigh pain, or pain in the foot or groin. Pain from a herniated disc tends to be continuous unlike muscular sprain type pain which can come and go.
What other symptoms apart from pain may be involved with a herniated disc?
There may be tingling, numbness and muscle weakness. In some cases, the pins and needles can be so severe that it even feels like a burning sensation on the skin. At other times, the patient may complain of problems with the bowels, bladder or sexual function.
To confuse matters, in some circumstances a MRI may confirm the presence of a herniated disc which is not causing any pain at all.
What is the western medical treatment for herniated disc?
Usually NSAIDs are prescribed but they can cause problems with the cardiovascular and gastrointestinal systems. Surgery is not always successful and in fact a Cochrane review concluded that “limited evidence is now available to support some aspects of surgical practice” in relation to herniated discs.
What causes the disc to herniate from a western medical perspective?
Degeneration of the intervertebral disc is the major cause and affects more men than women and more commonly occurs in the 25-40 years age group. There may or may not be a history of an injury or trauma. Athletes and highly competitive sports people can get a herniated disc and not necessarily have any degeneration in their spine. There is also an increased risk if people are exposed to long term work environment conditions such as they where they need to sit and bend forward for long periods of time.
How does Traditional Chinese Medicine view herniated disc?
Traditional Chinese Medicine theory looks at what causes the degeneration of the intervertebral disc. In particular, the Chinese medicine concept of deficient energy due to irregular lifestyle and enduring disease complicated with the ageing process is the key factor. Chinese medical theory states that the kidneys control the bones and if the kidney energy becomes weak, then the spine may suffer. A weakness in any area of the body may encourage environmental factors such as wind, cold and damp to penetrate and accumulate in the area leading to inhibited energy flow. This coupled with an injury or repetitive straining from lifting can then cause what was traditionally referred to as yao tong lian xi – back pain linking to the knee.
What other signs and symptoms may accompany herniated disc according to traditional Chinese medicine?
A practitioner of traditional Chinese medicine upon questioning of the patient may find that preceding the herniated disc, there could also have been a number of other symptoms. These could include
- A tendency to lower back weakness with a chilly achy feeling
- A sensation that is described as if sitting in a bath tub of water
- Long copious urination
- The body feeling tired and heavy possibly with numbness
- Loose stools
- Perspiring on minimal exertion
- Night sweats
Which acupuncture points can be used to treat herniated disc?
Scott Pearson of the Newtown Acupuncture Centre, opposite Wellington Hospital has a special interest in treating acute and chronic pain. We ask him if he has any special acupuncture points that he uses for herniated disc. “First and foremost, we need to look at where the pain, numbness and tingling is located as this will tell me which meridian(s) are involved and which dermatome(s). Usually palpation of the spine will confirm which disc(s) are involved. From there I will create a treatment strategy aimed at the disc in question. This will involve a special combination of points on a hand and points in the scalp. Points on the lower leg will also usually be chosen. Sometimes I will use points immediately surrounding the affected disc.
Does ACC cover acupuncture for herniated disc in new Zealand?
The New Zealand Government’s Accident Compensation Corporation (ACC) covers acupuncture for disc herniation if the herniation is caused by an injury. There are over 600 ACC accredited members of Acupuncture NZ practicing throughout New Zealand.