Acupuncture for Low Back Pain vs Surgery?:

Here’s an interesting story about something that recently happened at my Lafayette acupuncture office. I had a new patient with excruciating low back pain and sciatica radiating all the way down to her toes. She agreed to do acupuncture for low back pain.

She had been scheduled for back surgery in a couple of days and wanted to get acupuncture to help prepare her body for surgery and recover from it more quickly – something I facilitate often. I am pleased to report that after front and back treatment with acupuncture and suction cups, my patient’s low back pain was reduced by 80%.

This came as a complete surprise to her, and all of the sudden she was faced with the dilemma of what to do about her scheduled surgery. She was a health professional and understood that back surgery requires a surgeon, an operating room and a team of highly specialized personnel, all of whom had been scheduled just for her.

She asked me what I thought about acupuncture vs back surgery, and I advised her to wait and see. “You never know how back surgery will work out and it shouldn’t be done unless it’s absolutely necessary. If you’re feeling this much better after one treatment, you’re better off at least waiting on the surgery to see if you continue to feel better.” And I added, “You should talk to your surgeon as well – if they are good they’ll say the same thing.”

The next day her back still felt better, so she called her surgeon to talk about it. He was a good surgeon and agreed to cancel the surgery. My patient came back for her next round of acupuncture treatment and her pain was reduced by 90%. After four treatments 2x/week, her back pain was completely gone. Six weeks later, it is still gone.

She’s now getting acupuncture once every two weeks and will drop to once per month to get preventative/restorative tune-up acupuncture for her back if all continues to go well. Given that the typical back surgery cost ranges from $50,000 – $150,000+ these days, and considering the risk involved (some of my most difficult cases are patients who have already had back surgery), it’s imperative that patients, in addition to getting at least a couple of second opinions, try a variety of less invasive care for their back pain before they go on to surgery. These may include different types of bodywork such as Feldenkrais, massage, cranial-sacral therapy, chiropractic and most importantly — in my biased opinion — Acupuncture & East Asian Medicine.

Sadly for my patient, her health insurance does not cover acupuncture (although it would have covered the $50,000 – $150,000+ cost of surgery), so she paid out of pocket for her acupuncture for low back pain. The cost of her Chinese herbs included, if all goes well she will be paying about $1200 for the year – a great deal for safe, effective and preventive care (that her insurance really should cover).

I love reporting these kinds of stories and look forward to sharing more of them.