“Is acupuncture effective to help reduce back pain, and is it safe?” is a question some people with back pain ask. Acupuncture is indeed an effective and safe way to help relieve your back pain—when the treatment is administered by a trained and licensed acupuncturist. It is worth talking to your doctor about trying it for your particular back pain-related symptoms.

Common Causes of Back Pain

Lumbar muscle strains and sprains are the most common causes of low back pain. Many “weekend warriors” experience injuries and pain from trying to tackle large home projects, such as painting the exterior of their home or doing their own landscaping.

The low back is susceptible to strain because of its weight-bearing function and connection in movements, such as twisting and bending. Muscle strain is caused when muscle fibers are over-stretched or torn. Inflammation is common at the site of injury, usually accompanied by pain with movement. Muscle cramping or spasms can occur, as well as decreased function and/or range of motion.

How Acupuncture Helps Back Pain

Acupuncture has been an integral part of Chinese medicine for over 4,000 years, although the benefits were slowly discovered in the Western world. Today, as people are becoming more aware of alternative treatments—and seeking pain relief options that do not include medication—acupuncture seems to have jumped to the top of many people’s radar.

While over-the-counter or prescription pain medications may offer some relief, the relief is temporary and does not treat the underlying issue(s) or cause of the pain. Medication may mask the pain to the point that a person continues to do a certain activity that may worsen their physical situation.

Acupuncture as Complementary Back Pain Treatment

Acupuncture, how it works, and its effectiveness in treating back pain and other causes of body pain have been studied rather extensively by researchers in China, the United States, and other countries. Some proponents of acupuncture believe it unblocks and moves the body’s energy (called Qi, pronounced “chee”) through the body’s functional systems, such as the nervous, respiratory, circulatory, muscular, and digestive systems.

According to the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health (NCCIH), “results from a number of studies suggest that acupuncture may help ease chronic low back pain, neck pain, and osteoarthritis/knee pain. It also may help reduce the frequency of tension headaches and prevent migraine headaches.”

A group of researchers in China in 2016 published their results from a study of 751 patients with low back pain. The study was carefully performed, measuring each patient’s pain level and functional ability before and after acupuncture treatment. The researchers concluded that acupuncture may have “a favorable effect on self-report pain and functional limitations in LBP [low back pain] patients.”