If you're interested in trying acupuncture to relieve back pain, but getting pricked with a bunch of needles freaks you out, we've got some good news. Although many back pain sufferers have reported relief from acupuncture over the years, recent research shows acupressure may be just as effective of a strategy to soothe aches. No needles necessary!
Acupressure is similar to acupuncture, but instead of needles, pressure is applied with fingers or a device to specific points on the body. People are often assigned different "acupoints" based on the location of their pain. Interestingly enough, these points are often far away from the aching area, but the acupressure is thought to send a healing signal through our natural pathways to that area of the body.
An August 2019 study, published in the journal Pain Medicine, found that acupressure can improve chronic pain symptoms in the lower back specifically. Researchers randomly assigned 67 participants with chronic lower back pain into three different groups: relaxing acupressure, stimulating acupressure, and usual care. The main difference between the two types of acupressure is the relaxing one is thought to be effective in treating insomnia and the stimulating one is thought to help with fatigue reduction, so they focus on different specific acupoints in the body. For instance, the stimulating one emphasizes a stomach point while the relaxing one highlights a heart point.
Participants in the two acupressure groups were trained to self-administer acupressure on certain parts of their bodies and spent up to 30 minutes per day performing the technique over the course of six weeks. Meanwhile, people in the usual care group were simply instructed to continue whatever treatments their care providers had recommended for back pain.
"Compared to the usual care group, we found that people who performed stimulating acupressure experienced pain and fatigue improvement and those that performed relaxing acupressure felt their pain had improved after six weeks," said Susan Murphy, ScD, the lead study author in a press release.
While everyone's specific acupressure needs are different, there are some points on your body that are more often linked with easing a sore back than others. According to the UCLA Center for East-West Medicine, one common acupoint for lower back pain is the Tai Chong point. It is located on your foot, about two finger widths above the spot between your big toe and second toe. To use acupressure on this point, it's recommended to take your shoes off first and then use deep and firm pressure to massage and stimulate the area for 4 to 5 seconds.
The Tai Chong point was used by the study participants, as well as the forehead. (See — acupressure really does focus on spots far away from the source of the pain!) "Although larger studies are needed, acupressure may be a useful pain management strategy given that it is low risk, low cost, and easy to administer," Murphy said. If you're interested in trying acupressure for yourself at home, it's best to speak with an expert to get their recommendations first. You can check out this directory of practitioners who perform acupuncture and other complementary medicine to find a professional near you.