Herniated discs can result in varying amounts of pain and inflammation. While acupuncture can't cure the degenerative disc disease that is often associated with this condition, at the very least, it can help with the associated discomfort that frequently accompanies disc herniations. In addition, acupuncture may help the disc heal more rapidly. Herniated discs are most common in the low back but may also happen in the neck.
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Cause of Herniated Discs
Your discs are the substances between the vertebrae in your spine that act as cushions. They are what allow your spine flexibility along with stability and absorb the shocks that come along with movement. As you get older, these discs start to degenerate and, in some cases, it can happen at an abnormally young age. As the discs break down, they can become thinner or they can bulge or herniate. As this happens, nerves may get pressed on, causing pain and inflammation. Even when the herniation is due to picking up heavy objects improperly, it is often because of the underlying degeneration.
Traditional Chinese Medicine Diagnosis
Most diseases have both an excess and deficiency aspect to them in Chinese Medicine. For example, the pain and inflammation that may go along with a herniated disc can be considered an excess syndrome of blood and qi (pronounced "chee") stagnation. Qi stagnation refers to a blockage of the qi, or energy, so that it is unable to flow smoothly. However, the underlying cause will be regarded as a deficiency, usually in the kidney energy. Therefore, treatment will often include a two-pronged approach to deal with both of these aspects.
Relief of Pain and Inflammation
Some of the acupuncture points will be targeted at reducing pain and inflammation. Points chosen for this will include some that are local, at the particular location of the back where the pain is being felt. Other points may be chosen that are located at a distance from the area but are known to be effective for relieving pain, such as Large Intestine 4 on the hand. These points are targeted at removing qi and blood stagnation which will also encourage healing.
Strengthening the Back
In Traditional Chinese medicine, degeneration of the discs is linked to kidney deficiency. This refers not just to the organ itself but to the kidney energy or qi. Therefore, the acupuncturist will also likely choose some points to help strengthen your body in general and the energy of the kidney in particular. Although degenerations may not be cured, acupuncture can help the bulging or herniated disc return to its proper place faster. It also may assist in slowing down the degenerative changes.
The use of acupuncture for pain relief has been one of the most widely studied uses of the therapy. An analysis of randomized controlled studies by Eric Manheimer of the University of Maryland Center for Integrative Medicine in 2005 found that the research shows acupuncture does actually relieve pain. However, more extensive studies still need to be done. Part of the problem in doing so is that an acupuncturist needs to use the same acupuncture points for everyone in the study -- but this is not how acupuncturists treat. Although similar points are often used for similar conditions, an individualized treatment approach is always devised and yields the best results.