Treating Pain with TCM – Part 7: Lower Back Pain

In the last article, I wrote about Sciatica and pain related to the sciatic nerve. Lumbago, or lower back pain through the lumbar area, is often combined with Sciatica as they both have common causes for pain. Age, injury, and muscle tightness all contribute to the problem. A slipped disc can make movement difficult, herniation can pinch a nerve that can radiate pain either down the leg or to the front of the groin, and muscle tightness can make walking or bending very stiff.

Depending on the problem, TCM will use Acupuncture, Cupping, and Tui Na to help relieve the pain. Generally, if the problem is muscle related, these modalities work well. If it’s related to a lumbar disc alignment, we usually recommend to the patient to see a chiropractor/physical therapist to help put it back.

When treating lower back pain with acupuncture, the points from the Urinary Bladder channel work the best.  While there are extra points on the body that also work, the UB channel has two lines that run down the entire back and also down the leg.  This allows for more coverage around the back for clearing any Qi/Blood stagnation (aka relaxing tight muscles).  The points used are much as you’d expect.  Ashi points on areas that are sore or tender and UB points around the lumbar disc where the pain is located. There are points on the sacral foramina as well, if needed.

Lumbar Points

L1 – UB 22, UB 51
L2 – UB 23, UB 52
L3 – UB 24
L4 – UB 25
L5 – UB 26

Sacral Points

S1 – UB 27, UB 31
S2 – UB 28, UB 32
S3 – UB 29, UB 33
S4 – UB 30, UB 34

Tui Na, massage, also helps to relax tight muscles in the area.  Touch, in itself, helps to relax the body.  Cupping, when moved up and down the channel also works, although it’s just a stronger method of massage. There is also a TDP lamp, which radiates heat from far infrared light, that can help relax muscles too.  Of course, you could just use a warm heating pad too.

Less commonly used in treatments are herbs, formulas, patches, and Die Da Jiu.  For injuries, patches and Die Da Jiu work better as a supplement to relieve pain and faster recovery.  For chronic injuries, herbs and formulas work better, such as Du Huo Ji Sheng Tang or Ren Shen Lu Rong Wan.

Everyone’s pain is different.  The severity can also vary from person to person.  I’ve seen patients that had slipped discs from sneezing or twisting the wrong way in their sleep.  The best thing you can do is take care of the pain quickly.  Letting the pain worsen just makes it harder to treat later.  It can also lead to pain in other areas while the body tries to compensate.  In the end, everything can hurt and that’s no fun at all.

(Reprinted from