Back pain is a common condition in the UK, with around one in three people affected. It usually affects the lower back. lower back pain usually subsides within four to six weeks but chronic lower back pain can last for months or even years. There is hope for people suffering from chronic back pain, however.
Relaxing acupressure is thought to be effective in reducing insomnia
Susan Murphy, lead author
A recent study published in Pain Medicine found that acupressure, a traditional Chinese medicine technique, can improve chronic pain symptoms in the lower back.
“Acupressure is similar to acupuncture, but instead of needles, pressure is applied with a finger, thumb or device to specific points on the body,” said Susan Murphy, ScD, OTR, an associate professor of physical medicine and rehabilitation at Michigan Medicine and lead author of the study.
Murphy said that while acupressure has been previously studied – and found to be beneficial – in people with cancer-related or osteoarthritis pain, there are few studies that have examined acupressure in people with back pain.
In the study, the research team randomly assigned 67 participants with chronic low back pain into three groups: relaxing acupressure, stimulating acupressure or usual care.
“Relaxing acupressure is thought to be effective in reducing insomnia, while stimulating acupressure is thought to be effective in fatigue reduction,” Murphy said.
Participants in the acupressure groups were trained to administer acupressure on certain points of the body, and spent between 27 and 30 minutes daily, over the course of six weeks, performing the technique.
Participants in the usual care group were asked to continue whatever treatments they were currently receiving from their care providers to manage their back pain and fatigue.
“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,” Murphy said.
“We found no differences among the groups in terms of sleep quality or disability after the six weeks,” she added.
Murphy noteed that chronic pain is difficult to manage and people with the condition tend to have additional symptoms such as fatigue, sleep disturbance and depression.
“Better treatments are needed for chronic pain. Most treatments offered are medications, which have side effects, and in some cases, may increase the risk of abuse and addiction,” Murphy said.
She added: “We also recommend additional studies into the different types of acupressure and how they could more specifically be targeted to patients based on their symptoms.”
According to Bupa, other self-help tips to ease lower back pain include:
- Stay active and continue your daily activities as normally as you can. However, remember to take care when lifting or twisting your back. Doctors used to advise bed rest, but now we know it can make back pain worse. Try to avoid sitting for long periods.
- Take over-the-counter non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medicines (NSAIDs, for example ibuprofen) for pain relief. Paracetamol alone probably doesn’t work well for back pain. A person should only take these medicines for a short time, not for long-term back pain.
- Try applying heat or cold treatments. A person should apply ice directly to the skin.
- It may help to sleep with a small cushion between the knees. If a person can, they should sleep on their side, or with some firm pillows under their knees, if they are sleeping on their back.
People can also seek psychological support. Techniques such as cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) can help people understand their thoughts, feelings and actions, and change the way they react to and cope with pain, said Bupa.
“You may also find relaxation techniques useful. These may include simple techniques such as breathing exercises,” it added.
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