Most people discover acupuncture when other treatments fail. This was the case with my patient Nicole, who suffered from lower back pain and has kindly consented to write up her notes for this case study.
Nicole suffers from recurring sciatica and chronic lower back pain.
She first experienced lower back pain as a teenager as a result of an over exuberant bear hug from her father. She felt something go and was in pain for days. Pregnancy and then two further accidents aggravated the original injury. Over the years she Nicole tried everything from painkillers and prescription drugs to exercise and physiotherapy, these gave her some relief but no long-term benefit.
She contacted me out of desperation, as nothing seemed to help. Nicole had been in constant pain for a few months but the lower back pain suddenly increased in intensity to the point where movement was difficult affecting daily activities. Working as a college lecturer, the lower back pain had become so severe that she was finding it challenging to stand up.
Nicole described having two sorts of pain – a chronic lower back pain that was always there and an acute one, which just flares up. The everyday or chronic pain manifests as a dull, throbbing lower back pain that radiates down Nicole’s leg. The acute pain was more of a stabbing, sharp pain that was brought on by movement such as stepping forward, getting out of a chair or bending down. On the pain scale chart of 1-10, she rated the chronic pain at 5, i.e. moderate, and the pain experienced on movement “was off the scale”.
Upon examination the severe pain was centered bilaterally around L3, and the acute pain was more of a general lower back pain that moved down her left buttock and thigh. Her posture was rigid and her back felt cold.
Traditional Chinese Medicine Diagnosis
Nicole presented a mixed condition; the severe lower back pain on movement had the hallmarks of what Traditional Chinese Medicine call Qi and Blood Stagnation – sudden onset, severe pain on movement, rigidity of lower back and a history of trauma or injury to the site. The constant sciatic pain was a combination of two TCM syndromes – invasion of Wind-Cold-Damp and a background of Kidney Yang Xu. The Sciatic pain down her legs followed the course of the Bladder and Gall Bladder channels.
In Traditional Chinese Acupuncture treatment is aimed at the symptoms and the root cause. In this case the priority for the first treatment was to focus on the pain by moving Blood and Qi. Subsequent treatments focused on clearing and warming the channels; treating the underlying Kidney Yang Xu.
Acupuncture, Tui Na and Moxibustion were used in treatment.
An essential part of acupuncture treatment is to identify what is causing the symptoms and what the patient can do to help themselves. We identified that her back was frequently exposed to cold drafts plus she felt cold all the time. She was encouraged to cover up warmly, wear a “kidney warmer” a fleece belt around her midriff and lower back. Other factors that we looked at included stress, diet, posture and exercise to strengthen her back.
Six treatments weekly, thereafter spaced by two-weekly intervals.
One year on from her initial treatment, Nicole keeps regular appointments at two-three months intervals for a top up or when she feels discomfort in her lower back.
The results of treatment are best described by Nicole:
“ I was in constant pain for so long that it severely limited my life, I wasn’t functioning very well, and was miserable. Acupuncture changed my life. I have a normal life now.
I felt amazing after the first treatment, I could walk again, even stand up straight. The severe pain was gone completely and my sciatic pain was greatly reduced but still there – it took a few more treatments to get it under control. I get so much out of the acupuncture not just the pain relief, it helps me control my stress, I always leave the treatment room feeling calmer. I feel more energetic. I have also made changes to my life, I am aware of my diet and how it affects me, I keep my back warm and I do more exercise now – stretching, yoga and swimming. I also enjoy learning about Chinese Medicine from my practitioner.
As a person who suffered from lower back pain for more than 30 years I say to anyone who suffers from chronic back pain, you can carry on with the pain you have or you can seek acupuncture treatment and change your life. “
Patients will often feel immediate relief after their first acupuncture treatment, but it is essential to continue the full course of treatment to get the most benefit.
Nicola also followed tailored lifestyle advice, which significantly contributed to the outcome and management of her lower back pain.
If you have lower back pain and considering acupuncture, feel free to get in touch I’d be happy to help.