Back pain is a very common complaint. Approximately 80% of all Americans will have low back pain at least once in their lives. Back pain is a common reason for absence from work, or visiting the doctor’s.
Although back pain may be painful and uncomfortable, it is not usually serious. Even though back pain can affect people of any age, it is significantly more common among adults aged between 35 and 55 years. Back pain is associated with the way our bones, muscles and ligaments in our backs work together. Back pain goes away on its own, though it may take awhile. Taking over-the-counter pain relievers and resting can help. However, staying in bed for more than 1 or 2 days can make it worse.
Back pain generally lasts from a few days to a few weeks. Most acute back pain is the result of trauma to the lower back or a disorder such as arthritis. Pain from trauma may be caused by a sports injury, work around the house or in the garden, or a sudden jolt such as a car accident or other stress on spinal bones and tissues. Symptoms may range from muscle ache to shooting or stabbing pain, limited flexibility and range of motion, or an inability to stand straight. Chronic back pain is pain that persists for more than 3 months. It is often progressive and the cause can be difficult to determine.
In addition to conventional treatments, such as over-the-counter and prescription medications, people may try acupuncture in an effort to relieve pain. This fact sheet provides basic information about pain and acupuncture, summarizes scientific research on acupuncture for specific kinds of pain.
Acupuncture, among the oldest healing practices in the world, is part of traditional Chinese medicine. Acupuncture practitioners stimulate specific points on the body—most often by inserting thin needles through the skin. In traditional Chinese medical theory, this regulates the flow of Qi (vital energy) along pathways known as meridians.
People use acupuncture for various types of pain. Back pain is the most commonly reported use, followed by joint pain, neck pain, and headache. Acupuncture is being studied for its efficacy in alleviating many kinds of pain. There are promising findings in some conditions, such as chronic low-back pain and osteoarthritis of the knee; but, for most other conditions, additional research is needed. Acupuncture is generally considered safe when performed correctly. In traditional Chinese medicine theory, acupuncture regulates the flow of Qi (vital energy) through the body. Research to test scientific theories about how acupuncture might work to relieve pain is under way.
Patients with back pain recover without residual functional loss, but individuals should contact a doctor if there is not a noticeable reduction in pain and inflammation after 72 hours of self-care. Recurring back pain resulting from improper body mechanics or other nontraumatic causes is often preventable. Engaging in exercises that don’t jolt or strain the back, maintaining correct posture, and lifting objects properly can help prevent injuries. Many work-related injuries are caused or aggravated by stressors such as heavy lifting, vibration, repetitive motion, and awkward posture. Applying ergonomic principles — designing furniture and tools to protect the body from injury — at home and in the workplace can greatly reduce the risk of back injury and help maintain a healthy back.
Specific conditions can determine the rate of improvement. In the majority of patients with herniated disks, the condition improves Researchers attempted to identify factors most likely to predict an elevated risk of recurrent pain and found that only depression was a significant factor in the majority of those who had not recovered. Spinal stenosis stabilizes in about 70% of cases and worsens in 15%.