Would acupuncture help severe pain in back and legs?

Q:  Three years ago my partner had 2 discs removed from his spine and has been in severe pain in his back and legs ever since. Would acupuncture help him ?

A:  A great deal depends on the extent of the physical changes which have occurred in the operation and whether the vertebrae have been fused. If the physical structure is now such that the spinous processes constantly  impinge nerves then the chances are that the best one could hope for is to turn down the volume a little.

This is certainly an aspect of acupuncture practice which has been thoroughly researched since Nixon's visit to China in the 1970s. The sight of people having operations without anaesthetic meant that there was an upsurge of research into acupuncture for pain relief, and quite an impressive amount of research into the effects of acupuncture on the release of endorphins and enkephalins, the body's natural painkillers. Of course, the issue with this kind of treatment is that like all painkillers they wear off, and the rather unfortunate equation is between cost and effectiveness. If treatment can reduce pain for a significant time then the cost of doing this on a regular basis becomes the main issue.

This kind of use of acupuncture is not really traditional acupuncture, though, and we would have perhaps one or two ways of considering what is happening based on our view that the body is a system of energy in movement and that pain arises where the energy (called 'qi' in Chinese medicine) does not flow as it should. This can mean in some cases that post-operative pain can have as much to do with the blockage in the flow of qi caused by the surgery as  the problem which the surgery was intended to correct.  Even scar tissue can act as  a block.

However, we would not want this to be read in a way that gives unrealistic expectations. Some people do respond well to post-operative treatment, but again, a great deal depends on the state of the whole system. If a chronic problem sits atop a history of other chronic health problems then the potential for recovery may be less. The strength of Chinese medicine, though, is that it looks at the person as a whole, and tries to make sense of why this person has these particular problems.

This is why we most frequently advise people to visit a BAcC member local to them for advice on what may be possible given their own unique balance. There may be aspects of the presentation which will inform a practitioner about the likelihood of successful treatment, and most members are happy to give up a little time without charge to make this assessment. Our postcode search facility on the home page will show you the practitioners working closest to where you live or work. 


Post a question

If you have any questions about acupuncture, browse our archive or ask an expert.

Ask an expert

BAcC Factsheets

Research based factsheets have been prepared for over 60 conditions especially for this website

Browse the facts