Back and Neck Pain

by John G. Connor, M.Ac., L.Ac. edited by Barbara Connor, M.Ac., L.Ac.


Research on How Acupuncture Benefits Low Back Pain

Research on How Acupuncture Benefits Chronic Neck & Shoulder Pain
Dietary Recommendations
Foods to Avoid
Nutritional Support
Lifestyle Recommendations

Barbara and I see many patients with back and neck pain and we get very good results treating these conditions with a combination of acupuncture, craniosacral acupuncture, Chinese herbs and nutritional supplements. By combining acupuncture with craniosacral therapy we are able to effect energetic and physiological mobilization, fluid exchange, improved delivery of nutrients and removal of metabolic waste products in the affected areas which helps your body to heal naturally. The addition of specific herbs and supplements helps reduce the inflammation and rebuild damaged tissues without the harmful side effects of drugs. In order to facilitate the healing process in those who suffer from these conditions we have compiled a list of useful foods, foods to avoid and helpful supplements below for your information.

A study of 50 patients with chronic low back pain receiving acupuncture published in Clin J Pain 2001 Dec;17(4):296-305  by Carlsson CP and Sjolund BH entitled “Acupuncture for chronic low back pain: a randomized placebo-controlled study with long-term follow up” found a long-term pain-relieving effect of needle acupuncture compared with true placebo in some patients with chronic nocieptive low back pain.

The results of a study entitled “Acupuncture contra antiphlogistics in acute lumbago” published in Tidsskr Nor Laegeforen (In Norwegian) 2001 Apr 20;121(10):1207-10 done by Kittang G, Melvaer T and Baerheim A. found that patients receiving acupuncture for acute low back pain used significantly less analgesic drugs during the first week after the start of treatment than those receiving naproxen.  Patients receiving acupuncture also reported fewer new episodes of low back pain during the 6 + 12 month follow-up.  Side effects were frequent in the naproxen group, especially gastro-enteric side effects.  The authors concluded that standardized acupuncture treatment seems to be safe and effective in the treatment of acute low back pain in general practice.

According to a pilot study done by Schmitt et al published in Schmerz 2001 Feb;15(1):33-7 entitled “Acupuncture treatment of low back pain” the authors concluded that acupuncture is a noninvasive treatment with very few complications and that it is a promising therapeutical option of low back pain, especially when associated with radicular symptoms. 

Another study done by Molsberger et al published in Pain 2002 Oct;99(3):579-87 entitled “Does acupuncture improve the orthopedic management of chronic low back pain — a randomized, blinded, controlled trial with 3 months follow up” concluded that acupuncture can be an important supplement of conservative orthopedic treatment in the management of chronic low back pain.

In a study done by Meng et al published in Rheumatology (Oxford). 2003 Dec;42(12):1508-17 entitled “Acupuncture for chronic low back pain in order patients: a randomized, controlled trial” it was concluded that acupuncture is an effective, safe adjunctive treatment for chronic low back pain in older patients.  Fewer acupuncture subjects had medication-related side-effects compared with the control group.

A study entitled “Acupuncture relieves pelvic and low-back pain in late pregnancy” done by Kvorning et al and published in Acta Obstet Gynecol Scand 2004 Mar;83(3):246-50 found that acupuncture relieves low-back and pelvic pain without serious adverse effects in late pregnancy. 

A study published in Russian in Zh Nevropatol Psikhiatr Im S S Korsakova 1976;76(6):872-4 using acupuncture for lumbosacral radiculitis showed that there was a significant improvement in the group of patients who received only acupuncture (87.2%) and somewhat less (702%) in the group treated with conventional methods.

A study done by He et al entitled “Effect of acupuncture treatment on chronic neck and shoulder pain in sedentary female workers: a 6-month and 3-year follow-up study” published in  Pain2004 Jun;109(3):299-307 concluded that adequate acupuncture treatment may reduce chronic pain in the neck and shoulders and also related headache.  They found that the effect lasted for 3 years.

A study done by He et al entitled “Effect of acupuncture treatment on chronic neck and shoulder pain in sedentary female workers: a 6-month and 3-year follow-up study” published in  Pain2004 Jun;109(3):299-307 concluded that adequate acupuncture treatment may reduce chronic pain in the neck and shoulders and also related headache.  They found that the effect lasted for 3 years. 

The results of a study published in Clin J Pain 1998 Sep;14(3):248-55 by Birch et al entitled “Controlled trial of Japanese acupuncture for chronic myofascial neck pain: assessment of specific and nonspecific effects of treatment” concluded that relevant acupuncture with heat contributes to modest pain reduction in persons with myofascial neck pain. 

The results of a study published in Acupunct Electrother Res 1987;12(1):37-44 by Peng et al entitled “Long-term therapeutic effects of electro-acupuncture for chronic neck and shoulder pain — a double blind study” found that 24 or 64.9% of their patients obtained significant long term improvement.  An increase in regional microcirculation by peripheral sympathetic blockage from elector-acupuncture is thought to be responsible for the tissue healing and subsequent pain relief. 

Barley and wheat grass, omega-3 and GLA fatty acids*, whole alfalfa or alfalfa tablets or tea, oatmeal, brown rice, wheat, rye, oat bran, rice bran or ground flaxseed, sprouts, legumes, algae, asparagus, onions, carrots and most other vegetables and fruits.  Cherries, hawthorn berries, blueberries and other dark red-blue berries are a rich source of flavonoid molecules, which enhance collagen matrix integrity.
   * Take a natural source vitamin E supplement when consuming highly unsaturated oils.

Consider an anti-inflammatory diet such as this one outlined by Andrew Weil:  Emphasize monosaturated fats (found in olive oil, canola oil, avocado and nuts) and omega-3 fatty acids (in fish, walnuts and flax) and eliminate polyunsaturated and trans fats (in many processed foods).  Plus consider taking a daily fish-oil supplement; try 2 grams per day of a product with both EPA and DHA. 

Avoid calcium inhibitors such as excess meat or protein, alcohol, tobacco, coffee, sugar and too many sweets and excess salt.  Animal foods contain uric acid, which puts undue strain on the kidneys; this can contribute to back pain.  Do not eat gravies, oils, fats, sugar or rich or highly processed foods.

Chlorella – useful for healing injuries.
Calcium – needed for strong bones.
Magnesium – works with calcium.
 Vitamin D – aids absorption of calcium and magnesium.
Multivitamin and mineral complex with Vitamin A and Vitamin E – to supply a balance of nutrients important in formation and metabolism of bone and  connective tissue and needed for healing.
Silica – supplies silicon, which improves calcium uptake.
Vitamin B12 – aids in calcium absorption and digestion.
Zinc – required for protein synthesis and collagen formation.
Copper – works in balance with zinc and Vitamin C to form elastin and is needed for healthy nerves.
Manganese – aids in healing cartilage and tissue in the neck and back.  (Take separately from calcium.  Use manganese gluconate form.)
Essential Fatty Acids – needed for repair and flexibility of muscles.
Glucosamine sulfate – an important component of bones and connective tissue.
Vitamin B Complex – needed for repair and to relieve stress in back muscles.
Vitamin C and bioflavonoids – essential for formation of collagen, needed for repair of tissues.

When pain hits, immediately drink two large glasses of quality water.  This often gives relief within minutes.  Muscle aches and back pain are frequently connected to dehydration. If pain follows an injury or sudden movement, apply ice for the first 48 hours, then apply heat. Once the acute pain has subsided, doing exercises to strengthen the abdominal muscles may help to prevent recurrences; these muscles help to support the back.  Sit-ups are good for this purpose.  Always do sit-ups with your knees bent, not with your legs flat on the floor. Always lift things with your legs, arms and abdomen.  Bend your knees when you lift anything from the ground.  Never bend from your waist to pick up things.

Do not sleep on your stomach with your head raised on a pillow.  Instead, rest your back by lying on your side with your legs bent, so that your knees are about an inch higher than your hips. For more information on other herbs and supplements which can help in relieving pain please read our article entitled Pain Management on our website.


Balch, James F, M.D. & Balch, Phyllis A, C.N.C, Prescription for Nutritional Healing New York: Avery Publishing Group. 1997

Kirschmann, Gayla, J, Kirschmann, John D, Nutrition Almanac, New York: McGraw- Hill, 1996

Maciocia, Giovanni, The Foundations of Chinese Medicine, Edinburgh: Churchill Livingstone, 1989

Maciocia, Giovanni, The Practice of Chinese Medicine, Edinburgh: Churchill Livingstone, 1994

Pitchford, Paul, Healing with Whole Foods, Berkeley: North Atlantic Books, 1993

Upledger, John E & Jon D. Vredevoogd, Craniosacral Therapy, Seattle: Eastland Press1983

Weil, Andrew, M.D., “Coping with Chemotherapy and Radiation” Self Healing, July 2004

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Compassionate Acupuncture and Healing Arts, providing craniosacral acupuncture, herbal and nutritional medicine in Durham, North Carolina. Phone number 919-309-7753.

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