In the world of acupuncture, we see a LOT of back pain. In fact, I will often treat entire families that suffer from the same issue. I recently treated a husband and wife who both came in for back pain. After their sessions with me, they compared notes and asked me why they each had received needles in different areas.
I explained to them that each acupuncture session is different because we treat the entire person, not just the issue that they are coming in with. Since each person is different, no two treatments are completely alike. Back pain itself varies so much that there is no cookie-cutter, one-size-fits-all treatment. We acupuncturists look more deeply into the issue of pain before making a decision about what points and techniques are appropriate for you.
One differentiation it is important to make is whether the back pain stems from excess or deficiency. Proper treatment is based on knowing the difference between the two. Deficient pain stems from a lack of energy or blood to nourish the area, and excess pain is stagnation of the blood or energy; basically, things are “stuck” and not flowing freely as they should.
So what does this mean? Think of it this way: if you are deficient, your body lacks the energy to heal the affected area. Anything you do that further drains the overall energy of the body will cause the problem to get worse. We start with a certain amount of energy when we wake in the morning, which slowly declines throughout the course of the day. This being the case, pain that comes from deficiency is usually worse at night, when our vital force is at its lowest. In the morning, the pain improves. Movement takes energy, so deficiency pain is often better with rest rather than movement. Aging depletes us, and this can also lead to deficiency back pain. In practice, I see many older people who present with this type of pain.
Generally, deficiency pain tends to be more chronic, slow to build and slow to disappear. It usually feels better with pressure. If you have ever had the type of back pain that you just wanted someone to massage to get some relief, it was likely deficiency pain. Deficiency back pain is more mild and achy than pain caused by excess conditions, which is more pronounced and feels worse with touch. It can also move around, whereas excess pain is fixed in one spot.
When you see your acupuncturist for back pain, expect to be asked many questions regarding the location of the pain, what makes it feel better and worse, and what quality of pain it is. This will give your practitioner the information they need to provide the best possible treatment for you.