Acupuncture treatment is effective in relieving inflammation and the onset of pain as a result of a herniated disc. Acupuncture reduces the formation of inflammation and helps the body in the healing process. In many cases, an immediate change in sensation can be seen during the treatment itself.
Disc herniation – general background
What happens when the disk slips out?
Back pain is one of the most common complaints when going to see a doctor and when turning to Chinese medicine. Almost all of us will suffer from back pain at least once in our lifetime. Of the various causes of back pain in general, and lower back pain in particular, herniated disc is the most common. In this article I will mainly discuss lumbar disc herniation which is the most common condition of this kind.
To go to the article about back pain click here.
A Short Description
A disc is a structure made up of connective tissue and is located between every two vertebrae along the entire spine. Its function is to create a separation between the vertebrae as well as to provide flexibility and mobility of the spine. In the case of a herniated disc a certain part of the disc protrudes and inflicts pressure on the nerves in the area. Most disc hernias are lumbar (usually L4-L5), some are cervical, and on a rare occasion we see hernias in the thoracic spine.
Upper back, cervical spine – vertebrae C1-C7: (C = Cervical)
Middle back, thoracic spine – vertebrae T1-T12: (T= Thoracic)
Lower back, lumbar spine – vertebrae L1-L5: (L = Lumbar)
Disc Herniation – Causes
There are really no specific causes for a herniated disc, as it can occur to anyone, even without applying pressure of any kind to the back. Of course, lifting heavy loads and applying increased pressure on the back will increase the chance of a herniated disc, but it can occur even without these factors. Also, this problem does not have a genetic background. Statistically, most of those suffering from disc hernias are men in the age range of 30-50 years old.
Disc Herniation – Signs
- Lower back pain of varying degrees – from dull pain to sharp and severe pain.
- A radiating sensation down the leg, tingling or numbness of the foot and a sensation of heaviness of the leg.
- Pain in the buttocks or pelvic region – depending on the location of the disc herniation and where the pressure is on the involved nerve. Most often it will be in the buttocks area because the sciatic nerve, which enervates the legs and is located between the vertebrae L4-L5, passes through the buttocks. To go to an article about sciatica treatment click here
Disc Herniation – Conventional Treatment
Rest and prescription of painkillers (usually oral or by injections). Normally one must wait between six and eight weeks until the condition is resolved, and for most people it passes by itself, spontaneously, without further need for treatment. Yet, if the pain is severe and doesn’t respond to painkillers, and if the patient is no longer able to bear the pain, or alternatively when there is a complication in the condition, then invasive treatment is performed. In case the pain does not stop after 6-8 weeks (with rest and painkillers), an invasive treatment may also be considered, i.e. surgery and its consequences.
Such invasive surgery is performed under general anesthesia and is as risky as any surgery. In addition, studies show that in 7-10% of cases, the herniated disc may recur after 6.5 years.
Disc Herniation – Acupuncture
The causes of back pain according to Chinese medicine are many and varied. In general, according to Chinese medicine, the lower back area is associated with the channel and organ of the Kidneys, which reside in this area of the body. Another channel which also passes in this area of the back is the Bladder channel, which in Chinese medicine is the partner associated with the Kidneys, and one more channel is the Governing Vessel, which passes through the spine itself. (There are other channels involved in this condition, yet these are the main ones.) In the case of a herniated disc as a result of trauma in the area, the flow of qi and blood in the lower back area is impaired. This irregular movement (stagnation) is the cause of pain as well as other symptoms.
Chinese medicine in general, and acupuncture in particular, have had great success in treating herniated discs. The problem can be treated both in the initial stage, at the time of onset of symptoms (acute), and in the secondary stage (chronic). In the initial stage, creating an increase in the flow of qi and blood helps to reduce the pain. Acupuncture is highly capable and effective in helping to reduce the pain. If necessary the acupuncture treatment may be supplemented with other techniques, such as moxibustion (warming method with herbs) and electro-acupuncture.
To go to the article ‘Chinese Medicine Toolbox’ click here.
In the chronic stage, in addition to the basic treatment, a comprehensive interview is conducted in order to find out the cause of the imbalance that causes the pain to appear. Sometimes, in situations where there is general weakness or in the case of older patients, it is possible to incorporate herbal formulas to strengthen specific systems.
Many patients ask how acupuncture will put the disc back in place? And for how long is the treatment effective?
The answer to the first question is that acupuncture will never put the disc back in place. This can only be done with invasive surgery, as mentioned above. Other conventional treatments also do not purport to put the disc back in place but only to treat the inflammation that forms in the area. Acupuncture treats the inflammation that causes the pain and the other symptoms effectively, safely and without unnecessary side effects. After a series of treatments in which the degree of pain decreases, there is a gradual decrease in the frequency of treatments until a treatment once every few weeks is sufficient. “Maintenance” treatments can then be performed once every three weeks to a month.
The answer to the second question is that the time frame varies depending on the degree of injury (from mild to severe), the patient’s age and general constitution (body strength). The problem can usually be eliminated for a year or even longer, and in some patients this range can be even greater. The wisdom here is to understand that the body signals to us that something is wrong with it, and therefore we must maintain and nurture our body. With the help of a healthy and balanced diet, regular sports activities and proper lifestyle habits, it is possible to maintain a pain-free quality of life. This secret is also true for many other problems. Spread the word to everyone!
Disc Herniation – General Tips
These days the computer has become our best friend (at least for the most part). This nice video highlights how to maintain proper posture and prevent back and neck pain.
Are you interested in knowing more about Acupuncture and pain relief ?
Read the British National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) guideline [NG193], which recommend Acupuncture as an effective option in managing chronic pain.