Acupuncture for Low Back Pain vs. Opioids

In the midst of the opioid crisis, the popularity of acupuncture for low back pain and other chronic conditions has grown in the United States. The practice is primarily used for pain management; however, it is also used to treat other issues including infertility. Acupuncture has gained support from Medicaid and the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs as a viable treatment for those who are looking for alternative options to taking opioids for difficult to treat chronic pain problems.

Benefits of Acupuncture over Opioids

Approximately every 12 minutes, somebody in the United States dies from opioid abuse. It’s an overwhelming national problem that has affected families throughout the U.S. and beyond, falling in varying economic and demographic categories. A significant factor in the National Institute of Health’s approach to combating the opioid crisis is to find safe, non-addictive alternative treatments for managing chronic pain. A growing number of medical professionals feel that acupuncture can be one of these alternative treatments.

Even though the scientific evidence of acupuncture’s benefits has been widely debated, research has shown that it can be successfully used to manage a number of painful conditions – especially low back pain, neck pain and migraines. Some states hoping to cut opioid prescription use have been providing Medicaid coverage for acupuncture as an alternative, non-addictive treatment.

How Acupuncture Works

The traditional Chinese medicine theory behind acupuncture is that by stimulating specific spots on the body, a flow of energy, or “Qi,” is released that travels through “meridians”, invisible energy pathways). The Western explanation is that the ultra-thin needle used to perform acupuncture stimulates a nerve, which then transmits a signal to the brain that releases beta-endorphins. These are chemicals that work as the body’s natural version of opioids that lower pain thresholds. Yet another theory suggests that acupuncture modifies cells in the connective tissue around the pressure points in enduring ways, resulting in less pain. In addition, studies have shown that stimulating the vagus nerve that extends from the brain stem to the colon may lower the inflammation that has been tied to chronic pain. Achieving successful results with acupuncture for low back pain depends dramatically on how experienced the practitioner is.

Finding the Right Acupuncturist

First and foremost, make sure the acupuncturist you’re considering has the proper credentials. Every state in the U.S. has requirements, including education, training, and the appropriate certificate to practice acupuncture. In addition, the practitioner needs to be able to provide their license and will be current with continuing education. In addition, it’s important that they are insured for liability reasons. It’s also crucial that your acupuncturist has a clean treatment room and that you feel at ease with them after your consultation.

More and more people in the U.S are turning to acupuncture for low back pain when conventional medicine failed to be effective. That said, there are some cases where more traditional treatment options would be more appropriate. To be safe, consult with your doctor about acupuncture before beginning treatment and ask them about using it as a complimentary treatment.