Lower back pain (Lumbago) is a common condition including dull aches, stiffness, muscle spasms, sharp and shooting pain, weakness or numbness to the lower limbs. Most patients visiting the clinic have been suffering from lower back pain for many years and with trouble sitting, standing or even lying in bed at night.
In Chinese Medicine the “lower back is the fu of kidneys”. It is always important to first rule out any serious issues such as kidney-related diseases (kidney stones or inflammation) but most lower back problem is due to muscle and ligament tension. Nowadays, sedentary lifestyle such as prolonged sitting at the office or overstrain from extreme sports and activities have become major factors for chronic lower back pain. Poor posture and spinal degeneration can contribute to lower back pain as well.
Other causes to lower back pain includes:
Trauma or injury to the lower back including fractures
Ruptured discs (disc herniation)
Vertebrae displacement (spondylolisthesis)
Lower back pain is generally self-manageable - using ointments or heat packs as such to help relieve muscle tension for slight to moderate pain. Sometimes painkillers and muscle relaxants are used for more aggravated discomfort. However, it is important to address the root cause of pain since there are various factors affecting the lower back, then long-term use of medication can be avoided.
Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) perspective on Lower Back Pain
Chinese Medicine believes that the liver governs the tendons, kidney governs the bones and spleen governs the muscles. When there is an abundance of liver blood, tendons can be nourished. When the liver is affected, there is a lack of blood to nourish tendons, causing stiffness. Waste products can't be metabolised in the body, resulting in obstruction and pain. The kidney (essence and qi) ensures that bone growth and repair occurs. When the kidney is affected, the bones can be weakened and affect the lower back. The spleen and stomach are the digestive organs, in which they take charge in nutrition for muscle growth. When the digestive system is weak, then nutrients can't be absorbed properly causing weakened muscles or atrophy.
What does it mean by the "lower back is the fu of kidneys"?
The kidney organs are situated in the upper part of the lumbar region. Fu meaning "residence". The waist is the area covered by the essence and qi of the kidney. If the kidneys are adequate, the lumbar spine is strong, and when the kidneys are lacking, the lumbar spine can not move with ease. Therefore, kidney insufficiency is always taken into consideration in Chinese Medicine treatment for lower back pain. Kidney insufficiency can be a result of constitutional deficiency, frequent use of the lumbar causing overstrain consuming kidney qi and weakness due to chronic illnesses. These are the intrinsic factors to lower back pain.
"To observe over a long time (prolonged gaze) harms the blood. To lie down for a long time harms the qi. To sit for a long time harms the flesh. To stand for a long time harms the bones. To walk for a long time harms the sinews. These are the so-called "harms caused by the five taxations (exhaustions)"." ~Huang Di's Inner Classic: Chapter 23 of Basic Questions
In present times, people are working longer hours and with very little movement in the spine. Particularly with office jobs people are constantly staring at computer screens, shoulders slumped forward and with poor neck posture. Prolonged and fixed gaze makes the eyes dry and tired, there's poor blood circulation in the lumbar region for sitting too long and the back muscles becomes stiff and uncomfortable. Some people have the habit of crossing their legs and leaning forward or to one side only. This rotates and tilts the pelvis and can force the spine to curve sideways. Overtime the lower back muscles can't relax on its own resulting in limited movements, muscle tension and pain.
In Chinese Medicine and Acupuncture, the key is to enrich blood, strengthen the kidney (qi), promote lumbar circulation and relax the muscles and ligaments to appropriately treat the root cause of chronic lower back pain.
Lifestyle Adjustments & TCM Health Advice
In Chinese Medicine, black is the colour that is associated with the kidney. Since the kidney supports the lower back area, it is important to introduce some black coloured foods to your diet. It directly enters the kidney and its meridian which helps the organ to nourish qi and store essence. In fact, when the kidney essence is plentiful it is reflected on the hair. These foods can also nourish the hair so that it's soft, lush and beautiful.