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Oh, My Achin’ Back!

In the six years that I’ve been in practice, I’ve treated more patients with back pain than with any other symptom. Acupuncture and Chinese medicine, which is comprised of many schools of thought, offer both patient and practitioner a variety of lenses through which we can view, diagnose and deal with acute pain and chronic dis-ease. These traditions supply a wealth of possibilities in the treatment room.

In my practice, I integrate numerous approaches to perceive, explore, and address health concerns of the body/mind/spirit. When I look at physical phenomena such as back pain, I see it as having its energetic roots and branches in any level of body/mind/spirit and within organ systems that, from a western standpoint, might seem unrelated.

The back is a landscape consisting of a number of co-existing energetic influences. Particular meridians, or energetic pathways, flow through specific locations carrying their own brand of qi, or energy. All physical, emotional, and spiritual aspects of being are manifestations of qi. There are twelve primary meridians in the body that correspond to the twelve energetic organ systems, which, together, comprise a living entity with body/mind/spirit. Each of these organ systems, which are named after our western anatomical organs, directly correspond to, and can be accessed by stimulating acupuncture points along their respective meridians.

The back is encompassed by the Bladder meridian, which, via sixty-seven acupuncture points, makes available Bladder energies. This meridian begins at the inner corner of the eye socket, flows up and over the top of the head, down the neck, entire back, buttocks, back of the legs, outside of feet and to the end of the little toes where its qi quickly changes direction and transforms into the Kidney meridian at the soles of the feet. The Bladder meridian is unique in that it’s the only one that provides direct access to the other eleven organ systems through points that lie on either side of the thoracic, lumbar and sacral spine. Therefore, when a patient experiences pain in the mid back at the eleventh thoracic vertebrae, I’ll check out the functioning of their Spleen, since this is where the back Shu point of Spleen is located.

Through the Five Element lens, Bladder is the yang aspect of Water. This most primordial element grants us the capacity to display characteristics that we share with this particular element, as it exists in nature. Since water can be deep, still, reflective, replenishing and refreshing; our capacity for depth, stillness and reflection hinges upon the quality of Bladder and, inversely, the quality of Bladder (and therefore, our back) hinges upon our capacity for depth, stillness and reflection.

Kidney is the yin aspect of Water. Yin energies, in general, are said to store our precious substances. Kidney, as reservoir, is our deep reserves: our source - our essence. Anatomically, the kidneys live up under our ribs near our low back. In Chinese physiology, Kidney governs the low back – our foundation. The foundational energy we need in order to exist and move through life is created by the transformation of yin reserves into yang energy. Every morning upon waking after a good night’s sleep, Bladder is full with our daily reserves as provided by Kidney. Anytime we rest, we conserve and replenish our precious yin reserves.

Down time is a necessary part of life. Unfortunately, it’s often viewed as a luxury or an indulgence within our cultural need to accomplish. The paradox lies in the understanding that by taking the time to rest, we will be able to accomplish more. Rest leaves us refreshed, renewed, clear, and ultimately more effective. Still water runs deep, and deep water holds tremendous power. When we listen to our bodies and learn how and when to rest, our power will be available when we need it, and we will have the wisdom to know when to expend energy and when to conserve it. A well-balanced Kidney/Bladder pair allows us to go through life with a strong capacity for listening to our bodies’ limitations.

Acupuncture provides a time-honored method for balancing the qi within and between the twelve meridians. I find that patients’ wisdom is deepened as we progress through the treatment process. We develop a keener sense of understanding as to our bodies’ needs; we understand that fatigue and pain are reminders to rest. We become more in touch with, and honoring of our limitations; we learn to listen to our rhythms and cycles. Our backs become stronger and suppler; our entire being becomes stronger and suppler.

March 2004


Here's another related article which explores the Water Element, entitled,'s not just for breakfast anymore

Tending the Human Landscape might clear up some of your questions about Acupuncture treatment, or you can look through the FAQ page.