Acupuncture Scotland Blog

News and points of interest from Acupuncture Scotland

Back Pain

Back Pain can affect anyone at any age and most people will suffer from it at some point in their lives. It is the UK's leading cause of disability and one of the main reasons for work-related sickness absence.

The condition affects more than 1.1 million people in the UK, with 95% of patients suffering from problems affecting the lower back. Back pain currently costs the NHS and community care services more than £1 billion each year*. Most lower back pain is caused not by serious damage or disease, but by sprains, muscle strains, minor injuries, or a pinched or irritated nerve. It can also occur during pregnancy, or because of stress, viral infection or a kidney infection.

How acupuncture can help

Research has shown that acupuncture is significantly better than no treatment and at least as good as (if not better than) standard medical care for back pain (Witt 2006; Haake 2007; Cherkin 2009; Sherman 2009a). It appears to be particularly useful as an adjunct to conventional care, for patients with more severe symptoms and for those wishing to avoid analgesic drugs (Sherman 2009a, 2009b; Lewis 2010). It may help back pain in pregnancy (Ee 2008) and  work-related back pain, with fewer work-days lost (Weidenhammer 2007; Sawazaki 2008). Acupuncture has in some meta-analyses been found superior to sham acupuncture (Hopton 2010) while in others the advantage was not statistically significant (Yuan 2008; Ammendolia 2008). The sham interventions are not inactive placebos, but effectively different versions of acupuncture, so their value in evaluating treatment efficacy is highly questionable (Sherman 2009a). (See Table overleaf).

Acupuncture can help back pain by: 

  • providing pain relief - by stimulating nerves located in muscles and other tissues, acupuncture leads to release of endorphins and other neurohumoral factors and changes the processing of pain in the brain and spinal cord (Pomeranz 1987; Zhao 2008).
  • reducing inflammation - by promoting release of vascular and immunomodulatory factors (Kim 2008, Kavoussi 2007;Zijlstra 2003).
  • improving muscle stiffness and joint mobility - by increasing local microcirculation (Komori 2009), which aids dispersal of swelling and bruising.
  • reducing the use of medication for back complaints (Thomas 2006).
  • providing a more cost-effective treatment over a longer period of time (Radcliffe 2006;Witt 2006).
  • improving the outcome when added to conventional treatments such as rehabilitation exercises (Ammendolia 2008; Yuan 2008).

The National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence guidelines on best practice now recommend that GPs offer a course of 10 sessions of acupuncture as a first line treatment for persistent, non-specific low back pain*

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Study Trip to China

Julia is hoping to go to China in the autumn to work and learn in a busy hospital, more information to follow

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Acupuncture and Anxiety

How acupuncture can help

The best evidence for acupuncture's effectiveness (Pikington 2010; Pilkington 2007) comes in specific acute anxiety situations such as around medical operations (Mora 2007; Wang 2007; Gioia 2006) or dentistry (Karst 2007).

There is surprisingly little research with a primary focus on acupuncture for generalised anxiety disorder. Those studies published so far are mostly small and methodologically flawed, hence the reluctance of reviewers to draw conclusions (Pilkington 2010; Pilkington 2007).

There are also preliminary positive findings for treating chronic anxiety associated with post-traumatic stress disorder (Hollifield 2007), substance misuse (Chae 2008; Courbasson 2007; Grusser 2005), eating disorders (Fogarty 2010), hyperventilation (Gibson 2007), asthma (Scheewe 2008), insomnia (Nordio 2008), post-stroke ((Wu 2008), musculo-skeletal pain (Hansson 2007; He 2005) and various other conditions where anxiety has been measured as a secondary rather than primary outcome.

Although the overall evidence is patchy, it does lie promisingly in a positive direction, and, given the very low level of side effects and lack of demonstrably superior outcomes from other interventions, acupuncture could be considered as one possible therapeutic option alongside the existing repertoire. (See table overleaf).

In general, acupuncture is believed to stimulate the nervous system and cause the release of neurochemical messenger molecules. The resulting biochemical changes influence the body's homeostatic mechanisms, thus promoting physical and emotional well-being.

Research has shown that acupuncture treatment may specifically benefit anxiety disorders and symptoms of anxiety by:

  • Acting on areas of the brain known to reduce sensitivity to pain and stress, as well as promoting relaxation and deactivating the 'analytical' brain, which is responsible for anxiety and worry (Hui 2010).
  • Regulating levels of neurotransmitters (or their modulators) and hormones such as serotonin, noradrenaline, dopamine, GABA, neuropeptide Y and ACTH; hence altering the brain's mood chemistry to help to combat negative affective states (Lee 2009; Samuels 2008; Zhou 2008; Yuan 2007).
  • Stimulating production of endogenous opioids that affect the autonomic nervous system  (Arranz 2007). Stress activates the sympathetic nervous system, while acupuncture can activate the opposing parasympathetic nervous system, which initiates the relaxation response.
  • Reversing pathological changes in levels of inflammatory cytokines that are associated with anxiety (Arranz 2007)
  • Reversing stress-induced changes in behaviour and biochemistry (Kim 2009).

Acupuncture can be safely combined with conventional treatments such as medication or psycho-educational therapy, possibly enhancing their beneficial effects (Courbasson 2007) and reducing unwanted side-effects (Yuan 2007).

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Client Testimonials

I personally will always attribute Julia's treatment to be the predominant factor in my extended period of remission from Crohn's disease. Julia is both a trusted friend and therapist and I would highly recommend her to anyone seeking an alternative therapy.

Haley Creasey

My aches and pains in ankles, knees, hips and lower back disappear and my energy levels are given a very good boost too! It is 45 minutes or so of relaxation in a busy schedule. She keeps up to date with modern acupuncture techniques and has recently returned from a trip to China to experience these new techniques first hand. I cannot recommend Julia highly enough

Christopher Spencer

I consider myself very fortunate to have found Julia's Acupuncture Practice 2 years ago, when I decided to try acupuncture for back problems. After a few treatments the problems were solved. Since I have every confidence in Julia's ability, each treatment is a very relaxing and worthwhile experience.

Jean Osborne

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