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Acupuncture for low back pain relief

Posted on August 15, 2013

Li Gan Jian Ying

This is the slogan of Dr. Richard Tan, OMD, LAc., arguably one of the most well known acupuncturists in the US. Roughly translated into English it says, “stand pole see shadow.” What exactly does this mean? It means that when you stand a pole in the sun you instantly see a shadow from that pole. This metaphor is Dr. Tan’s description of how acupuncture should work, immediately. When the proper acupuncture points are used the results are felt immediately by the patient.

I had the great opportunity to study with Dr. Tan recently at a seminar in Boston, and his candor and expertise were inspiring to say the least. His style is simple, reproducible, and effective. There is a logic and beauty to his treatment protocols.

He was able to explain and teach what as a student studying acupuncture I knew all along, that true acupuncture works with the meridians or channels. I was trained at a school that taught TCM, or traditional Chinese medicine. We are taught to discriminate patterns of symptoms into organ pathologies that can be treated with herbal medicine.

While I have an appreciation for herbal medicine and its applications, I am an acupuncturist. My skills are in treating people using needles. For me as a strict acupuncturist, TCM diagnosis yielded marginal results.

Now, to be fair for certain internal conditions, TCM works well. But for many of my patients that have pain or injuries, TCM does not work. I asked repeatedly as a student how the channels played a role in diagnosis and treatment, but none of my teachers at school were able to explain this to me. I was given power points presentations verbatim from our textbooks to answer my questions. Uninspiring and uninformative.

The first person to give me an introduction to channels and meridians was Dr. Winnie Chow. She understood our questions and gave us an introduction to the history and method behind the channel system in Chinese medicine and its direct application to acupuncture. At the time this was such a radical shift in the way we were taught to think that the concepts were foreign and difficult to grasp. What Winnie started, Dr. Tan was able to finish.

Acupuncture does work

With the proper diagnosis pain can be eliminated with one needle.

Why then are there mixed results and experiences with acupuncture? The biggest reason is that people do not get the proper “dose” of acupuncture. Many practitioners treat one patient maybe two an hour. They cannot afford to practice unless they charge $80-$100 a treatment. Not many people can afford to come in more than once a week. This is like having your doctor prescribing a medication and taking one dose and then not taking the medication as directed. It will not work effectively.

In order to get lasting results treatments must be given frequently initially, three times a week, for two weeks. From there treatments can be spaced out so that one or two treatments a week are scheduled until the problem is resolved. In China patients with severe conditions are treated daily, even multiple times a day. Patients understand that this is how the medicine works.

There are many practitioners here in the US that are doing a disservice to the practice of acupuncture and their patients by giving ineffective treatment plans. While cost is certainly a factor to consider does a few hundred dollars for a treatment that is safe, with few if any side effects or risks to eliminate low back pain sound unreasonable? Absolutely not, when considering the costs of surgery compared to acupuncture.

Now keep in mind this is coming from an acupuncturist raised in a family of orthopedic surgeons. When surgery is necessary I fully support it, but surgery involves risk and good outcomes are no more guaranteed than any other medical procedure. When the option exists to use non-surgical conventions first, they should be taken. Acupuncture is an effective and safe option for the management of low back pain.

I am not alone in thinking that acupuncture can be effective for low back pain. Dr. Tan taught us the “two million dollar” back pain prescription. Why two million dollars? In his thirty years of experience he has had so much success using this point protocol in treating low back pain that he jokingly says that when you treat low back pain with his method, you will make two million dollars.

The results speak for themselves. You don’t have to live with low back pain. If you have low back pain contact us for more information on how live pain free.

Eat good food and drive carefully,

Sam