Upper back pain is a condition that I commonly treat in my acupuncture practice. Often this type of pain is related to occupational repetitive motion injuries. Dentists, teachers, hairdressers, and band directors have sought my help in addressing upper back pain. Sometimes this type of upper back pain is associated with a cervical disk nerve impingement that may also cause neck pain and pain radiating to the shoulder and down the arm. Stress related neck and shoulder tension may also be the culprit.
Usually my patients have already seen their physicians for diagnostic tests to determine the underlying cause of their upper back pain from a western medicine perspective. This is important to rule out the remote, yet critical possibility, that their pain is related to heart disease or a tumor causing the nerve impingement. When the pain is strictly a muscular-skeletal issue, it responds very well to acupuncture treatment.
My most effective acupuncture points to treat upper back pain are Master Tung points Chongzi (22.01) and Chongxian (22.02). These points are located on the thenar eminance very close to the Lung meridian. The upper back is transversed by the Bladder meridian. Because the Bladder meridian, or foot taiyang meridian, has a close relationship with the Lung, or hand taiyin meridian, Master Tung found these points to be very effective in treating this type of Bladder meridian pain. As with most pain treatments, Master Tung needled these points on the hand opposite the pain.
When the pain has neck and shoulder involvement, I first needle these two acupuncture points. Then, on the same side as the pain, I needle acupuncture point Small Intestine-3, the confluent and regulating point of the Du meridian, which runs through the entire spinal column. Small Intestine-3 also acts as a guiding point when the pain involves the scapulae or travels down the arm along the path of the Small Intestine meridian. Finally, I add acupuncture point Ren-24. Master Tung often used acupuncture points directly opposite the pain. Ren-24 is located on the chin and therefore very good to treat cervical vertebrae pathology. Once these points are needled, I ask the patient to exercise their neck, while stimulating the needles. Master Tung referred to this technique as “directing the qi” to the pain.
As with most conditions, the sooner the patient seeks acupuncture treatment, the quicker pain will be relieved. If treatment occurs within days of a disk impingement, for example, one treatment may relieve the pain as much as 80%. Typically, my patients and their physicians are not aware of the power of acupuncture to treat this type of pain and consequently, it may be weeks, even months or years, before patients think to try acupuncture.
Usually, in these cases, several treatments are necessary to resolve the problem. But recently, a woman came to me complaining of upper back pain that she had had for 25 years! She could think of no specific event that caused the pain. It was a constant source of discomfort. After one Master Tung treatment her pain was gone! We were both amazed. It reminded me that I should share this protocol with other acupuncturists. If you are not familiar with Master Tung points, good reference books on point location and indications can be found on Dr. Wei-Chieh Young’s website .