Health Articles, Pain Management

Acupuncture for Lower Back Pain

Lower back pain is one of the most common complaints we treat in clinic. This is no surprise as 16% of the total Australian population (about 4 million Australians) report having back problems (data from the Australian Bureau of Statistics, 2017–2018 National Health Survey). Suffering from back problems can often lead to decreased quality of life, bodily pain, psychological distress and disability (1).

Lower back pain refers to any pain that occurs in the lumbar spine. For some the pain can occur centrally, towards the left or right, the pain can be either sharp or dull and could be acute (recent) or chronic. On occasion some patients can develop neurological involvement and may experience a burning pain, pins and needles or numbness down the legs. Any type of chronic pain can be an incredibly debilitating problem and if it is present long term, pain can become a vicious cycle that affects sleep, relationships, work and moods. 

There are a number of reasons why back pain occurs and several factors could be contributing: Sprains and strains of the muscles and tissues around the spine are common causes, muscle spasms, irritation of nerve roots, disc prolapse or degeneration or bone deformity. Low back pain can develop as a result of an injury, disease, poor posture and ageing. Most of us will develop some degree of musculoskeletal degeneration and dysfunction with age, while this does not always cause pain or lead to symptoms; other important factors that can lead to lower back pain with ageing includes excess body weight and a lack of exercise (2). Lifestyle factors can also be a big contributor to developing low back pain, for example: Spending eight or more hours sitting at work with a poorly set up workstation. The current international guidelines for management of lower back pain include paracetamol, non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), muscle relaxants, antidepressants and corticosteroids among others. However, majority of these medications only offer mild relief from the pain and can cause serious side effects, such as drowsiness, dizziness, addiction, allergic reactions and gut discomfort (3).

Acupuncture treatment can be a beneficial therapy in managing both acute and chronic lower back pain. In fact, the WHO confirmed in 2002, the effectiveness of acupuncture treatment from controlled clinical trials for 28 diseases, symptoms, and conditions; lower back pain was one of the conditions that was mentioned in this report (4). In addition, a systematic review concluded that acupuncture can relieve pain and improve symptoms of acute lower back pain more effectively than non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAID) use (5). Furthermore, acupuncture as well as electro-acupuncture, were seen to be significantly more effective than medication in the treatment of chronic lower back pain (6).

Our acupuncture treatments are individually tailored to each patient and address the complexity of each case, treatment frequency and number of treatments vary from patient to patient. 

Article written by Jonathan Yang

Bhsc Acupuncture, Master of Commerce


  1. ABS (Australian Bureau of Statistics) 2019. National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health Survey: First Results, Australia, 2018–19. ABS cat. no. 4715.0. Canberra: ABS.
  2. Low back pain in older adults: risk factors, management options and future directions. NIH., Published Apr 18, 2017.
  3. Lim, T. K., Ma, Y., Berger, F., & Litscher, G. (2018). Acupuncture and neural mechanism in the management of low back pain—an update. Medicines5(3), 63.
  4. Zhang, X. (2002). Acupuncture: Review and Analysis of Controlled Clinical Trials; World Health Organization: Geneva, Switzerland. Available online:
  5. Lee, J. H., Choi, T. Y., Lee, M. S., Lee, H., Shin, B. C., & Lee, H. (2013). Acupuncture for acute low back pain: a systematic review. The Clinical journal of pain29(2), 172-185.
  6. Lam, M., Galvin, R., & Curry, P. (2013). Effectiveness of acupuncture for nonspecific chronic low back pain: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Spine38(24), 2124-2138.