Back Pain

Back Pain

Back pain is a common condition and more than half of all people can have back pain at some point in life.

From the perspective of Traditional Chinese Medicine, pain is due to a blockage of energy and/or blood flow, which in turn draws our attention to the painful area.

This article is designed to educate patients on the causes of back pain according to Traditional Chinese Medicine, its etiology, the most effective treatment, and how improper treatment can further aggravate back pain.  These causes, etiologies and consequences are based on real cases.

Potential causes of back pain:

  • Arthritis
  • Diet: The consumption of heavy metal from multi-mineral foods, or foods contaminated by heavy metal. Also the consumption of dairy products, which traps water inside the body, and in turn traps toxins from coffee, soda, processed foods, refined sugar or drugs. These toxins accumulate in the liver and other parts of the body.
  • Kidney deficiency, which causes dull pain in the lower back and knees.
  • Difference in leg length, which affects the muscles in the back. This can be corrected by wearing custom-made shoes.
  • Continuous strain: some muscle and/or tendons are tight due to overstrain of certain muscles and body parts.
  • Excess body fat and/or weight at abdominal area , which creates extra burden and strain on the lumbar area.
  • Poor posture:
    • Sitting in a cross-legged position can cause leg pain, hip pain and back pain
    • An imbalanced sitting or standing position can cause one side of the back to be tighter and more strained than the other side.
    • Incorrect lifting can cause muscle/tendon tightness or vertebral displacement.
  • Pregnancy, which creates extra burden on the lumbar area.
  • Scoliosis, a birth defect, which can cause pain due to unequal muscle pulling from the spine.
  • Stress: According to Traditional Chinese Medicine, stress causes liver energy stagnation and causes malnourishment of the tendons. When tendons are tightened up, muscles can be tightened up as well, and that will block energy flow and cause pain.
  • Tight clothing: Tight clothing restricts the muscles and in turn blocks energy flow, eventually causing pain.
  • Improper shoes or bed, which can constrain muscles and cause pain.
  • Weight Lifting, which can cause narrowing of lumbar discs and also cause shortening of lumbar bones.
  • Injury: Various injuries such as improper weight lifting, traffic accidents, falls or fighting, can cause back pain.
  • Outside Pathogens: According to Traditional Chinese Medicine, outside forces such as wind, cold and excess dampness can block energy flow and thus cause pain.
  • Patient’s physical condition:
    • Ankylosing Spondylosis (AS): The inflamed area of the spine can cause pain.  Traditional Chinese medicine can treat this condition.
    • Imbalanced Organs: According to Traditional Chinese Medicine, sick or stressed organs affects specific, related back muscles, causing back pain due to tightened muscles or nodules.
    • Lupus: Traditional Chinese Medicine can treat it and relive the pain.
    • Fibromyalgia: We believe fibromyalgia is not a lifelong condition. We can relax the muscles and treat emotional disturbances to help you avoid muscle pain again.

    Many people have tight muscles on the back, but they think that will not affect their health. Let’s see the possible consequences from the real cases:

    • Pain, numbness or soreness depends on the severity and the length of the case. If the pain is chronic, it might feel numb. The pain can be localized or can radiate through the leg in cases such as sciatica.
    • Emotional Stress: Pain, numbness or soreness can cause stress and affect a person’s day-to-day emotions.
    • Insomnia: Severe pain can affect sleep.
    • Disc Degeneration: Tight muscles and/or tendons reduce energy and blood flow to the discs, which eventually may lead to disc degeneration.
    • Narrow Disc: Tight muscles and tendons pull on the vertebra bones, pressing on the discs and potentially leading to narrowing discs.
    • Crushed Disc: Prolonged and forcefully tight muscles and tendons can lead to crushed discs.
    • Sliding Disc: Tight muscle can pull discs to toward to the tightened direction.
    • Pinch Nerve: A pinched nerve can be caused by bone pressed against the nerve and/or from muscle wrapped around the nerve.
    • Scoliosis: Scoliosis can be acquired, and not a birth defect. If a person has poor posture it can cause different parts of the back muscle tight up and eventually cause scoliosis.
    • Illness: According to Traditional Chinese Medicine, tight back muscles will negatively affect organs located nearby.
      • Case Study 1: I worked with a singer who holds the microphone in her hand, causing her shoulder blades to tighten, blocking energy flow to her lungs and causing frequent bouts of flu and dry skin. After I relaxed the muscles around her shoulder blades, everything went back normal.
      • Case Study 2: I worked with a male patient who has had severe, constant constipation for decades, and coincidentally, he had back surgery over 30 years ago. After his back muscles were released, his bowel movements returned to normal.
      • Case Study 3: A female patient of mine could not hold her urine. After I released her back muscles, her urination went back normal.
    • Bone Spur: Bone spurs happen in the areas of poor blood circulation.
    • Decreased ROM (Range of Motion): The muscles and/or tendons are too tight to be extended.
    • Numbness in the feet: In one case, when my patient’s back muscles were released, she  felt a stream of warm energy flowing towards her feet and her feet sensation came back.
    • Chronic Fatigue:  This is due to tight back muscles, which restrict the energy supply to the organs and causes weak organ functions, which causes even further chronic fatigue.
    • Excessive sleeping: One of my patients slept excessively, waking up only for meals and bathroom breaks. After her back muscles were released, she went back to her normal life.
    • Vertebra Bone Displacement: Muscle pulling can cause the vertebra bone displacement.
    • Vertebra Bone Fusion: Besides Ankylosing Spondylosis, this can cause the vertebra bone to fuse together. Tight muscles/tendons also can pull bones until they are too close to each other and cause bone fusion in people with a high pain tolerance.
    • Twisted Spine: If one side muscle is tighter than the other side, it can twist the spine.
    • Compressed Lumbar bones: Lifting heavy weights can press on the vertebra bone and makes the bones became shorter than normal.

    With these consequences in mind, it’s best to find the most effective treatment for your back pain. The following are available treatments for back pain. Which ones are best for you?

    • Western Treatment offers many options, but unfortunately, most options only address the pain and not the cause. Other options may be more drastic and can cause side effects.
      • Bed Resting: It takes time to do bed resting and lose productivity.
      • Cold Compress: With cold compress, ice numbs the pain; nerves do not feel the pain. However, the cold constricts blood vessels and makes the situation worse because it prevents proper blood flow. In Chinese medicine, we apply warm compresses, except with acute or new injuries, where cold compresses help prevent bleeding and/or more inflammation.
      • Painkillers: Painkillers temporarily mask the pain but do not prevent it.
      • Muscle relaxants: Like painkillers, muscle relaxants only work for a short time, and do not completely heal the problem or prevent future pain.
      • Cortisone injection: The injection period becomes shorter and shorter. 
      • Narcotics injection: Like cortisone injections, narcotics are not a long term solution.
      • Stretch Machine: To be properly stretched on a machine, you must be patient and allow plenty of time for each session.
      • Surgery: Surgery does not solve the root problem of back pain. I had a patient who had four different surgeries for four lumbar disc problems. When he developed his fifth lumbar problem, he gave up on surgery and looked for acupuncture treatment.  Acupuncture is a painless procedure that provides him with quick relief at low cost.
      • Massage: Deep tissue massage can cause inflammation and can cause muscles to become compacted, and compacted muscles become even harder to treat. Moreover, regular massage cannot loosen tight tendons along the spine.
      • Physical Therapy: Like a stretch machine, physical therapy can require months or years of work before you achieve results.
      • Chiropractic Service: Chiropractic services may not provide enough heat to loosen soft tissues and relax muscles.
      • TENS Units: TENS Units provide temporary relief but cannot treat deep tissue and tendon problems.
    • Traditional Chinese Medicine
      • Tui-Na: Tui-Na provides more techniques than traditional western massage.
      • Acupuncture plus Tui-Na: Combined, the results are quicker than with tui-na alone.
      • Acupuncture: Acupuncture is quick, painless, and a safe alternative to surgery. Acupuncture can loosen tightened muscles and/or tendons as well as can alleviate the pain and underlying causes associated with herniated discs, sliding discs, narrowed discs, and pinched nerves.
      • Herbs: Traditional Chinese Herbs help solve root problems such as kidney deficiency and spleen deficiency. Water retention causes the retention of toxins in muscles, contributing to pain. By strengthening spleen function, Chinese herbs help expel extra water in the muscles. In addition, herbs also can help expel dead blood from injury.
      • Herbal bath: Traditional Chinese Herbs, when taken in bath form, help expel external pathogens such as cold, wind and/or dampness that invaded body, thus helping relieve pain.
      • Cupping: Cupping improves circulation, expels cold and dampness especially when uses the traditional Chinese fire cupping, and can even suck out dead blood. It also can help boost organ function if placed on the right acupuncture points.  However, people considering Cupping should seek a medical opinion before treatment, as this method is not advisable for everyone.
      • Hang on the monkey bar


    1. People who need constant chiropractic services should seriously consider acupuncture treatments. Acupuncture balances muscle tension and helps prevent muscles from pulling back joints in opposite directions.
    2.  Acupuncture can alleviate pain for narrowing disks, bulging disks and herniated disks without surgery.
    3.  Acquired scoliosis can be treated by acupuncture and chiropractic without surgery.
    4. Please click to view for a brief chart of Back Pain Caused Problems.

If you have back pain, protruded disc, you can try self-healing by learning from A Wealth of Health.


© Frieda Mah, International Speaker, Author, and Coach

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