Humans have always sought relief when they are in pain, so it is no wonder that an ancient practice has come to the aid of people suffering from low back pain.
Acupuncture is a procedure that started in Chinese medicine and has been adapted and is widely accepted in Western medicine, particularly to promote good health or to relieve pain or create a numbing sensation in a particular area of the body. In its Eastern tradition, the practice regulates chi in the body (its life force, or flow of energy) by placing needles in meridians (the channels through which chi flows) near the surface of the skin.
"When you insert needles, you release natural opiates such as endorphins," said David Mortell of the Pittsburgh Acupuncture Center, 5655 Bryant St., Highland Park. "And MRI studies indicate acupuncture raises the threshold for pain in the brain."
Acupuncture heightens the effectiveness of the areas of the brain responsible for regulating pain signals, doctors at the Chronic Pain and Fatigue Research Center at the University of Michigan found in a 2009 study.
In a clinical trial in South Korea in 2011, patients with severe back pain reported significantly more relief from acupuncture than did those in the control group, who were treated with the prescription nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug diclofenac. A metastudy of 13 trials in China indicated acupuncture "achieved better outcomes when compared with other treatments."
In a German study in 2007, low back pain sufferers who were treated with acupuncture reported more relief than those who were treated with drugs, physical therapy and exercise.
"Acupuncture represents a highly promising and effective treatment option for chronic back pain," concluded the researchers. "Patients experienced not only reduced pain intensity, but also reported improvements in the disability that often results from back pain."
It worked for Neal Griebling, 70, of Mount Washington. Mr. Griebling injured his back shoveling heavy snow in 1994, and has had low back pain off and on ever since. He sought treatment from a pain physician and from a chiropractor before trying acupuncture.
"On a scale of 10, the pain relief I get from a session with David Mortell is an 8, sometimes a 9," Mr. Griebling said. He gave the trigger point therapy he received from a chiropractor only a 4 on his pain relief scale. The injections he received from a physician didn't help at all. "They were a zero."
Jack Kelly: firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-1476.