Keep Jumping!: Treating Sciatica, Low Back Pain and Hip Problems with Acupuncture
Sciatica, hip, leg and back pain can greatly inhibit our lives. The area of the hip is a very important axis of movement in the body. The main acupuncture point located on the hip is classically given the name “continuous jumping,” creating an image of free movement, like an exuberant child at play.
To stay young, suggest the ancients of Chinese medicine, one must maintain strength and mobility of the hips.
Chinese medicine emphasizes the importance of the hip and lower back as areas that support all aspects of physical vitality and longevity. The root of the immune system is said to reside in the area of the lumbar spine. Strength of the legs and spine are rooted in the sacrum. And mobility and capacity to adjust to change is empowered by the energetic nexus in the hips.
The acupuncture point GB-30 “Continuous Jumping” is considered one of the most health promoting points on the body. It is said to “resuscitate Yang,” which is another way of saying this point restores vitality to the entire body, especially to the immune and digestive systems. This is a strong action, showing the importance of the hip to the overall health of the entire body. When there are problems with the hip, there are often problems with vitality in many other body systems.
It is very common during the aging process for the hip and low back to become stiff and immobile. Once mobility is compromised in the area of the hip and lower spine, degeneration can occur. However, problems of the hips and low back are often the result of more serious issues occurring elsewhere in the body.
The area of the hip near the acupuncture point GB-30 is a common area where the body “dumps” problems it has not been able to deal with. The hip is a nexus of energy where two of the longest immune-focused acupuncture channels come together. It is a place where the Bladder and Gallbladder channels deposit “wind,” “cold” and “damp”- metaphors for virus, bacteria, fungus, pestilent factors like insect bites, physical and emotional stress as well as taxation, ie: overuse. When the hip is used as a basin to store unresolved problems, the vitality of this area declines, leading to a multitude of symptoms.
When treating conditions such as sciatica and back pain, Chinese medicine looks first and foremost for areas in the body that have become blocked.
When energy, blood and fluids are flowing unimpeded in the hip and lower back, there should be maximum freedom of movement. The immune system should be strong, digestion should be good and there should be a feeling of strength and ease of motion. Stiffness, heaviness, pain or restriction indicates something has become blocked – often in the internal organs themselves. Chinese medicine teaches that to treat the joints of the body is really treating the internal organs. The joints act as pathological storage units for problems affecting the organs. Clearing the joints of problems reduces stress on the internal organs, allowing them to, detox, heal and therefore function better.
Acupuncture channels show us how vital energy moves in the body. The channels also describe how disease conditions manifest. If we know how to interpret them, the acupuncture channels, by the way they are arranged can also show us the best way to treat a problem affecting the body. We just have to learn how to decode. This article with attempt to do this in relation to the area of the hip and low back.
There is a specific branch of the Bladder’s Primary acupuncture channel that begins at the level of the Kidneys, in the lumbar region of the lower back. This channel travels into the sacrum and hips. The channel continues down the hamstrings to terminate at the center of the popliteal crease at the back of the knee. This is a common route by which sciatic pain travels. When patients come to me with sciatic pain, this is the first place I look for blockage.
The dense bony areas of the sacrum, hip and low back are places where many unresolved pathogens/issues can collect.The major problem with the body using the hip as a storage area for unresolved issues is that anything kept stagnant in the body will create inflammation. This is what doctors become most concerned about: ongoing inflammation. For many good reasons. Inflammation slowly consumes the functional energy in an area, it dries up blood and fluids, damages the tissues and also puts the immune system in a hyper active state.
The stress of inflammation affects the entire body. The immune system may become hyper focused on the issue residing in the hip, often distracting it from being able to protect the body from other challenges. The person may get sick easier, be more prone to allergies and sensitivities. However the most common and often distressing aspect to hip problems is the pain and loss of mobility that often accompanies it.
The most important acupuncture channel to treat low back and hip pain is the Tai Yang Bladder channel that runs along the entirety of the back. This channel is likened to a great river.
In health, the river of the back works as follows: the body gathers the nourishment from food, drink and air, transforms it into a type of thick fluid that it uses to feed the essence of the body. Essence is a term used to described the substance within the body that maintains body function and the capacity to rebuild. It is like the modern concept of the stem cells of the body. This nourishment is stored in the area of the low back and lower basin of the spine – the area of the hips and pelvis. It becomes reproductive fluids, but also the fluid that continually rebuilds the body. The health and integrity of the essence is what keeps us young, flexible and vibrant.
The Tai Yang Bladder channel is what consolidates and protects the “Yin” and “Yang” of the body. The Yin is a collective term for the physical structures of the body and that which continually nourishes them. The Yang is the body’s functional capacity – it’s immune energy, digestive “fire,” spiritual animation and mental sharpness.
The body can begin to degenerate and/or develop inhibition, stiffness and pain in a few different ways. It can come from internal causes like inflammation and dampness generated by unresolved emotional stress or diet. It can also come from external causes, like unresolved viral, bacterial or pestilent factors that attack the body and are never fully eradicated. It can also come from overuse and/or abuse of the body.
External pathogens come into the body via the skin and sense organs of the head. Or they can come in through our mouths and the food we eat. If they are not resolved, they will eventually enter the internal organs. The body is wise in its self-preservation capacity. Rather than allow the internal organs to become damaged by pathology, the body will shuttle toxins away from the organs into the boney areas of the body – the joints: hips, shoulder, elbows ect. This process is called latency.
When a person comes to me complaining of hip or back pain – sciatica, lumbago, slipped discs, degenerative discs – I begin by looking for latency in their bodies. We then begin the detox process. The caves and basins of the body have to be purified. We need to drain the stagnant toxic water from the joints. This will not only bring back ease and mobility to the joints, it will also take pressure off of the internal organs, allowing them to rebuild their functionality and restore their form.
Joint issues are often linked with internal organ problems. Some of these problems may have seemingly gone away after an initial prior crisis. Others have yet to manifest. However, knowing that the joints are common areas for the body to maintain latency, it becomes vital that they be cleared out.
Latency in the joints also has a weakening effect on the body’s immune and digestive capacity. It weakens the body’s “Yang qi.” The Bladder channel is called “Tai Yang” because it’s the acupuncture channel that contains the most vitality – the most capacity to change a situation. But when unresolved issues become stored in the caverns along the Tai Yang channel, especially within the sacrum, this weakens the Yang Qi. The body’s capacity for strength and resolve lose their power.
The major strategy when working with pain in the hips and sacrum is to free Tai Yang: clear out any cold or damp that may be lurking in the bony areas of the pelvis and warm the area to promote more Yang qi.
Along the pathway that runs through the lower back, sacrum and hamstrings are acupuncture points that tell us more about how to treat sciatica, back and sacral pain. The lowest point along this pathway is located in the center of the back of the knee. It’s name is BL-40 “Bend at the Center.” It’s one of the most effective acupuncture points to relax the lower back. It’s especially effective for achiness of the lower back and legs, since it’s an important point to rid the body of “wind-dampness.”
Another point along this trajectory, a little further up the hamstring is called BL-38 “Superficial Cleft.” The idea of a “Cleft” relates to emergency situations, often involving pain. BL-40 is also considered a “cleft” point, mostly relating to skin conditions. BL-38 treats a condition known as “Wei Atrophy,” which is a collective term for neuropathy, numbness, wasting and degeneration of the body tissue. Wei Atrophy occurs when the body has not been able to resolve a long-standing condition of wind, cold and dampness that has become trapped in the external anatomy of the body. The heat generated from an immune system trying to expel pathogens burns the tissues, creating weakness and loss of sensation.
Further up the hamstring at the lower border of the buttocks is another important point called BL-36 “Cheng Fu.” The term “Cheng” relates to the “ordering” function of the colon. This point is important because it opens the bowels and also treats skin conditions. There is a relationship that’s established along the leg points of the Bladder channel. BL-40 and BL-36 both deal with opening the lower bowels, they also deal with back and leg pain as well as skin conditions. These points suggest that blockage of the bowels – incomplete defecation and urination can create both skin conditions as well as muscular problems such as pain, neuropathy and degeneration. When treating chronic pain issues, especially those involving degeneration, it is very important to rectify bowel function. There must be adequate outlet to rid the body of the toxins it is holding onto.
There’s a grouping of acupuncture points next to the tailbone – one at the tip of the tailbone called GV-1 “Long and Strong” and a pair of points next to the tailbone called BL-35 “Meeting of Yang.” They all strengthen the capacity of the Yang qi rooted in the lower back by purging the body of Damp-heat, which is essentially unreleased toxins the body has neither been able to metabolize or discharge. The accumulation of Damp-heat sits in the lower basin of the body like a cesspool, consuming the Yang qi and rotting the tissues of the body. It is often the root of urogenital problems and degeneration.
The next grouping of points along this trajectory of the Bladder channel are located in the sacral foramen – the holes inside of the the sacrum. They are numbered BL-31, BL-32, BL-33 and BL-34. These are common areas where unresolved pathogens hide. It’s very important when dealing with any pain condition, especially those that affect the low back, sacrum and hips to clear out these sacral holes.
The Bladder trajectory on the lower part of the torso gives us a treatment strategy for dealing with low back, sacral, hip and leg issues. We must make sure the bowels are open and functioning well. We can assess how well they are working by the state of the skin. Skin conditions often suggest blockage in the bowels. We also need to clear out Damp-heat lingering in the basin of the pelvis. We do this while relaxing the muscles of the back, hips and legs. Most of the points along this trajectory also “soothe the sinews.” This will ease feelings of pain and ache, as well as stop spasms.
After we have dealt with the challenges to the Yang qi of the body, we can move to the next grouping of points along this trajectory – all of which benefit the Yang qi. These points are numbered BL-30, BL-29 and BL-28. They have names that mention the genitals, the spine and the bladder organ. These are points that are used to promote longevity. They consolidate the Yang qi of the body so as to prolong life and strengthen overall health and vitality. But in order to allow these points to work, the lower points previously mentioned must be rectified. The body’s capacity to detox Damp-heat must be working well, and the muscles of the low back, hips and legs must be relaxed.
The next set of points BL-27 and BL-25 both rectify the two intestines, while BL-26 and BL-24 both regulate and strengthen the function of the pelvic basin in general.
The final point along this particular Bladder channel trajectory is BL-23, named for the Kidney organ. It is one of the most important acupuncture points on the entire body. This point and the points that directly surround it can be seen as the battery pack of the body. This area is said to hold onto the “original qi” of the body – the source vitality that supports all functions within the human system. It is the root of the digestive system, immune system, the functionality of the sense organs of the face, and much more. It can be said that the entire focus of the treatment of this aspect of the Tai Yang channel is to free-up this important acupuncture point. All the other points mentioned help support this master point of health and vitality.
BL-23 is connected to another even more powerful acupuncture channel that acts like a belt, wrapping around the torso. This belt-like channel is called “Dai Mai.” It’s role it to maintain the strength and integrity of the lower abdomen and back. It is what keeps the spine and muscles of the back in alignment and the belly from sagging. It is no coincidence that some of the most common vertebra to bulge, degenerate and break are those located around the lumbar region. Problems of the lower spinal discs are an indication that the Belt channel “Dai Mai” is losing its capacity to hold the lumbo-sacral pelvic basin in place. The most common pathology associated with dysfunction of the Belt channel is Damp-heat. It is one of the major pathologies that consumes the energy of the Belt Channel and depletes the important vitality of the BL-23 area.
We are commonly told that our backs give out because of injury or aging. But problems of the lower back, spinal vertebra, hips and sacrum really come from accumulation of Damp-heat occurring from insufficient bowel function, and unresolved pathogens that the body has been forced to store. This is what sets in motion the vulnerability that can lead to problems from aging and injury. If the back remains strong, it will not easily break down.
Acupuncture theory is quite sophisticated in its understanding of how diseases develop. The acupuncture channels detail both the development of disease processes as well as the treatment strategies for resolving them. We just looked at one of the five pathways of the Tai Yang Bladder acupuncture channel on the back of the body. This pathway, which runs from the lumbar region of the lower back, through the sacrum, buttocks and hamstrings has shown us both how low back, sacral, hip and leg problems begin and how they need to be treated. This discussion also showed us how degeneration occurs, as well as why many skin conditions emerge.
To review: lower body issues are often the result of accumulation of Damp-heat in the lower part of body due to incomplete defecation and urination or consumption of Yang qi from unresolved pathogens that are being stored in the bony cavities of the pelvic basin or within the region of the Belt channel.
To treat hip, sacral and back pain, as well as weakness in the legs, degeneration and loss of strength in the low back, the lower bowels must be rectified and opened so Damp-heat can be discharged. Then the Yang qi vitality of the body must be freed and restored. Finally, the Yang qi that has been built and consolidated must be used to restore function of the Belt channel as well as the energetic nexus of BL-23 to support digestive function and immune capacity – the ability to rebuild the damaged tissues of the body.
For more information or to set up a private acupuncture session: get in touch with Nicholas at firstname.lastname@example.org or via phone at 718-791-1651.