Staying active through exercise and sports is one of the best ways to enjoy a long and healthy life. But while working out is good for the body, there are some risks involved. One of those risks is straining or overworking the low back.
If you’re an athlete or active individual, you’ve probably experienced the aching agony of low back pain. Maybe you’re even struggling with it at this moment.
Thankfully, medication and surgery are not your only options for relief. Acupuncture offers a natural and effective way to relieve low back pain and workout injuries so you can get back to doing what you love.
Athletes and Low Back Pain
Low back pain affects at least 80% of people at some point in their lives, and it’s even more prevalent in athletes and active people.
Why are athletes at such a high risk of developing low back pain? Repetitive impact, overextension, and poor form can all lead to weakened tissues and inflammation in the low back. In some cases, structural changes (like a herniated disc or disc degeneration) can cause severe pain and lasting damage.
What Workouts or Sports Can Cause Low Back Pain?
Because most sports or workout programs require activities that move, twist, and bend the back, it can quickly become a vulnerable area. Some activities, however, are more likely to lead to problems with the low back. These include those with repetitive impact (running), twisting motions (golf), and weight-bearing exercises (weight lifting). Other common workouts and sports that have a high rate of low back pain include:
- High-Impact Aerobics
- Gymnastics and Dance
- Skiing and Snowboarding
- Ice Hockey
- Rock Climbing
Types of Low Back Injuries in Athletes
While “low back pain” is used as a general term, there are actually several different types of low back injuries that can occur in athletes.
- Musculoligamentous strain (back strain)
A musculoligamentous strain is simply a strain in the soft tissue of the back (the muscles, ligaments, nerves, or blood vessels). They are the most common type of sports injuries. The good news is that these types of injuries tend to heal quickly when given support from therapies like acupuncture and massage.
Fractures in the lumbar spine are usually caused by repetitive activities or impact. In athletes and active people, most fractures tend to be mild and can heal on their own with acupuncture and proper training.
- Spondylolysis and Spondylolisthesis
Spondylolysis is back pain caused by structural issues or pressure on the spine. It is a common condition, affecting up to 47% of all athletes. Spondylolysis is likely caused by repeated stress on the spine during childhood. Athletes who are most at risk are those who grew up playing sports that hyperextend the lumbar spine. These sports include gymnastics, figure skating, football, and weight lifting. Spondylolisthesis is a more severe form of the condition when the spine becomes so weakened that one vertebra slips forward over the one below.
- Herniated nucleus pulposus (herniated or “slipped” disc)
Herniated discs are common in sports with an emphasis on weight-bearing activities. As weight and stress are put on the spine, the discs between each vertebra act as cushions to absorb the shock. Repetitive weight-bearing exercises, overtraining, or disc degeneration can cause the disc to bulge or rupture. As the ruptured disc pushes out from its intervertebral space, it puts pressure on the surrounding nerves and causes pain, numbness, tingling, inflammation, and sometimes sciatica.
How Are Low Back Pain & Injuries Treated?
Most cases of low back pain are mild and can resolve with natural therapies and rest. However, in some cases, it’s important to see a doctor and have a physical examination to get to the root of the problem. From there, you have two different possible approaches to treatment:
The Western Medicine Approach
Depending on the severity of your pain, a Western medical doctor may recommend imaging or tests to understand why you are in pain. In mild cases, a Western treatment approach may recommend rest or pain medications. If pain medications or injections don’t work, surgery may be recommended as the last option. Unfortunately, surgery is often a temporary solution, too. If the root cause of the pain is not addressed, low back pain can come back.
However, with more research on the benefits of natural therapies, many doctors refer to manual therapists like acupuncturists, chiropractors, and massage therapists to support low back pain and injury recovery.
The Oriental Medicine Approach
Oriental medicine takes a whole-body approach to healing low back pain (or any health condition). In this approach, we look at the entire system to find the root of the low back pain. While it may be a clear structural issue in the back, there are many potential root causes leading to low back issues.
Once the root cause is determined, Oriental medicine therapies like acupuncture target the pain and promote healing. Usually, this happens over a course of several sessions. Because Oriental medicine balances the body, deeply healing tissues and moving Qi, it is possible to treat back pain permanently through these methods.
According to Dr. Ko, not all low back pain cases are treated in the same way: “Disc pain and muscle pain are treated differently. Disc treatment focuses on the spine and takes about 5-6 months of treatments. Muscle pain is treated by releasing the muscles, which usually takes about 15-20 sessions.” Similarly, “In acute injury cases, we treat the injured area with local points so it heals rapidly. But if it is chronic, there is usually radiating pain so we treat the whole body.”
Acupuncture for Low Back Injuries: How Does it Work?
Low back pain isn’t just uncomfortable. It also prevents you from doing the things you love, including the workouts and sports that lead to the injury in the first place. Plus, low back pain can lead to other troubling symptoms like poor sleep, stress, and irritability.
Acupuncture releases trigger points and knots.
The most common cause of back pain is muscle strain or tension. Acupuncture directly targets trigger points or knots in the muscle that prevent the smooth flow of Qi and blood through the low back. Not only does this relax and heal the strained muscle, but it also relieves pain on the spot. When trigger points are stimulated and released by acupuncture, pain-relieving chemicals are release from the tissues. This enhances the overall pain-relieving effect of the treatment.
Acupuncture gives immediate pain relief.
The goal of acupuncture is to promote healing throughout the whole body so the pain goes away for good – but that can take time. The good news is that there are also immediate benefits to getting acupuncture. Studies show that acupuncture can relieve pain in local areas (like the low back) after treatment and keep pain levels low for hours or days due to the release of natural pain-killing endorphins. This pain-relieving power builds with each session, which is why staying consistent with your treatment plan is the key to fast and lasting relief.
Acupuncture reduces inflammation.
In nearly all cases of low back pain, there is some level of inflammation. Inflammation at the onset of an injury can help spur the body into healing action. However, inflammation tends to linger on long after these initial minutes and can worsen pain as time goes on. Acupuncture reduces this harmful inflammation by taking pressure off the tissues of the back. This allows them to complete the healing process.
Overcome Low Back Pain and Back Injuries with Acupuncture
Low back pain can stop even the most dedicated athlete in their tracks. Thankfully, that doesn’t mean you have to live in pain or stop doing the workouts you love forever. How well you recover from low back pain – and how quickly you can return to play – all depends on the steps you take to support and protect your back.
With acupuncture and Oriental medicine, you can stop low back pain from the root, and stabilize the tissues of the back to maintain your healthy, active lifestyle.
Dr. Ko has been helping people in Studio City, Los Angeles and surrounding areas put an end to their low back pain for over 15 years. Ready to get back to action yourself? Book your appointment here, or call us at 1-818-980-7979 to get started on your path to healing today.