Back pain is one of the most common reasons why people are referred to Chinese Medicine and it is certainly one of the conditions I see most often. Back pain ranges from acute (”I was helping my friend move the couch and my back went out!”,) to chronic (”everytime it rains, I get a backache!”). Sometimes its sharp and unbearable, often its a nagging ache thats been around for some time.
When we say Chinese medicine can help your back-pain naturally, we are talking about using healing techniques that respect your own natural healing processes. For example, when I recommend an herb for your back, it clearly helps you from the inside out just like food. Your body knows how to fix itself and when I apply acupuncture, I’m just sending a message to direct your own inner self to do the healing work. True healing is when your own body fixes it and its not just patched over, controlled, and hidden.
From a Western medical perspective, backaches may results from trauma, renal disease, rheumatism, muscle injury, vertebral/spinal cord disorders, and so on. Regardless, there is a lot you can do to address it naturally. Some backaches are much more serious than others and definitely take more time and effort to treat. Any severe pain, especially with sudden weight loss, I have to refer the person to the hospital! In fact, its always wise to have your doctor rule out serious problems if the cause of the backaches are not clear to you.
In Oriental medicine, there exist some simple-minded techniques to quell pain without understanding why the pain is really there. Of course the advantage of the medicine is the detailed diagnosis, but… In the case of the back, if I do a technique called cupping on your back, many varieties of pain will improve within one session! This is much like taking aspirin (although without the side-effects) – it helps the pain without addressing the cause. Also, there are herbal formulas that are general analgesics (pain-killers) – and some of the most generic acupuncture can also be done with good results. This is natural medicine, but this isn’t true healing.
One of the beauties of this medicine and a key reason why I get good results in treating pain is a concept called differential diagnosis. Back pain is a classic disease category in Chinese medicine, with its etiology and pathogenesis spelled out literally hundreds of years ago. Depending on which master you follow, it can be said that the problem of back-pain can be seen in five or so system-wide syndromes. When I talk about syndromes here, what I mean is that in Chinese medicine there are classic patterns of disharmony in the body-mind that have been identified, with their accompanying signs, symptoms, and treatment methods.
Sometimes even though the cause of the backaches seem clear: trauma for example, real life complicates issues because there is almost always an underlying deficiency that opened the door for the trauma. Through our diagnostic techniques of taking your pulse, looking at your tongue, palpating your abdomen, and asking you questions, I identify which of the five main disease mechanisms (often a combination) is responsible for YOUR backache. Really your backache is just one face of a systemic issue, so even though you the patient is just focused on the pain, I have to also keep my perspective and make sure that I’m also addressing the whole picture.
In fact, this is why Chinese & Oriental medicine is so good at fixing all sorts of problems. If 20 people come to me with backaches which sound exactly alike history and location-wise, over time they would still all get 20 different types of treatment because even though they all had the same story, their body tells me more of the picture that they themselves dont see. They would receive different acupuncture points, different herbal formulas, and different dietary advice. The goal is always to identify the root of the problem, not just patch over the pain. Often in the process, things will get fixed in their body that they didnt even know was broken (or just seemed totally unrelated).
This is why this medicine is called holistic and natural. I am taking into account not only what it looks like on the outside, but also what the rest of your body is telling me, and how its related. The trick then, becomes how to reconcile all the different signs and symptoms of your body into a picture that points to the classic breakdowns of the problem. For me, back-pain can be very satisfying to treat because often many cases get healed in just a few treatments.
Afshin’s Suggestions and Home Remedies for back pain:
- Take a 20 minute epsom salt hot bath
- Medicated oil rub – for all swollen joints and sore muscles, including back-aches; massage into the whole area of pain. A few drops of the active essential oil into a cupped handful of the base oil. If possible, top it off with a warm compress for at least 10 minutes ( I wrap thin towels around massage stones that I boil to heat, and then apply over area)
- Base oil : I recommend Safflower Oil – one of its properties is that it helps move stagnated blood which is a big aspect of most aches & strains. You can use almond oil, olive oil.
- Active Oil :
Chamomile essential oil
- great for the skin in general: even boils, rashes, burns, dermatitis, … will help your mood too!
- known anti-inflammatory: azulene in German Chamo.
- Sweet Marjoramessential oil
- great for helping relax the sinews
- also great for moods, depression, loneliness; stimulates immunity!
- White Flower brand medicated oil, or any of its ingredient essential oils:
- especially wintergreen, eucalyptus, peppermint, menthol, camphor, lavender
- can be found in inexpensive little bottles in chinatown, or just search amazon: there are many similar products that can be just as effective
- For anti-inflammatory action
- mix equal parts black cherry juice and dark grape juice. Drank a cup, mix with water to taste.
- Try supplementing with 500mg Bromelain to ease muscle and joint pain (might also help your digestion and sinus’ as well!)
- Calcium Stew: A bowl daily for a few weeks
- Oxtail or thighbone for the meat; or actually any bones. Or if you’re vegetarian:
- seaweed, especially Hijiki; very high source of Ca
- Spice it up: onion, garlic, ginger, parsnips, other flavorings…
- Beans; excellent addition to help uptake the calcium
- Be mindful of posture while working at your desk for hours. Take regular stretching breaks, at least get up for a few seconds every 30 minutes. Get regular exercise that uses all the major muscle groups, or better yet get into QiGong!
- Remember if you are not getting better, definitely see your doctor! Rule out serious problems.