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Can acupuncture help lower back and nerve pain?

Q:  I had decompression surgery July 2015 to relieve l5 nerve. I reherniated within 3 months and again have lower back pain and nerve pain. Could acupuncture help deal with pain/inflammation?

A:  There is certainly a considerable amount of evidence for the use of acupuncture in the treatment of low back pain, as our factsheet shows

The evidence is sufficiently robust that NICE make acupuncture one of its recommendations for treatment of chronic back pain lasting more than six months.

However, when there is a specific cause like a herniated disc, we tend to be just a little cautious about what may be possible, especially when we are not entirely sure of the nature of the surgery (fusion, laminectomy, discectomy, and so on). Where there are specific physical changes in the body that can limit what we are able to achieve. This may mean, for example, that treatment might be aimed at pain relief and reduction of inflammation but only with the expectation that this will eventually return. The equation then is between how much relief and how sustainable, and the cost of maintaining an 'acceptable' level of discomfort.

It is best not to be too negative, however.Our clinical experience is that when there is disc protrusion which will probably resolve of its own accord within six to twelve months treatment may be able to speed up that process, and may well be able to reduce some of the inflammation which it causes. There is a spiral of discontent where a problem causes inflammation which exacerbates the initial problem, and conventional medicine is often aimed at the same thing, to break the cycle and let things stabilise.

In summary, we suspect that treatment may well be able to help with the pain and inflammation, but we think that the best option is for you to visit a BAcC member local to you for a slightly better assessment than we can offer here. Most are willing to give up a some time for prospective patients without charge and this sort of face to face assessment would in our view be essential to give you the best possible information. We treat people, not conditions, and the great Canadian physician William Osler summed this up well; 'tell me not about the disease the patient has, tell me about the patient who has the disease.' The wider context within which the symptom sits can have a huge impact on what can be done, and with problems like yours really does need to be taken into account. 

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