Back pain is not considered to be a sickness, but a pain caused by other sicknesses. Therefore, the usual treatment is first to stop the pain by using acupuncture, massage, or both in combination. The key to reaching this goal is to improve the qi and blood circulation in the pained area. Occasionally, herbs are also used to improve the circulation and stop the pain. However, all of these measures are considered temporary, since they are not able to cure the root of the sickness but only alleviate the symptoms. In order to have a complete recovery or cure the root of the problem, a healthy and strong foundation must be rebuilt. Naturally, this usually takes a long time, but it is a long-term solution.

On one hand a Chinese physician will treat the painful symptoms and try to make the patient more comfortable, while on the other hand he will teach the patient some special qigong breathing techniques and movements to either expedite the recovery from sickness or to rebuild the strength of the body.

The best way to maintain health is to prevent sickness from occurring. It is the same for back pain. The best way to prevent it from occurring is to be aware of your lifestyle and to keep your body in good condition. However, if it has already occurred, then the appropriate course is to prevent it from getting any worse and learn to rebuild the physical strength of the back so that it can resume functioning normally.

The following is a look at various Chinese methods for treating back pain.

Massage. When done properly, massage will improve the qi and blood circulation in the joint areas. Once this circulation is improved, the pain can be eased and the patient able to feel more comfortable.

Generally speaking, Chinese massage can be classified into four categories according to their purposes. They are as follows:

1. General Massage (Pu Tong An Mo). General massage is the most common and popular massage. The six main goals of this massage are relaxation, recovery from fatigue, preventing illness, slowing down aging, speeding recovery from sudden environmental qi disturbance; and enjoyment.

From these, you can see that general massage is not aiming for healing, but for improving the qi and blood circulation for different purposes. Normally, a Chinese massage therapist will start his or her training from general massage. This is simply because through general massage practice, you can master the basic massage techniques and also get a better acquaintance with human anatomy and the qi status of the body. If you wish to know more about Chinese massage, please refer to the book Chinese Qigong Massage: General Massage, published by YMAA.

2. Push Grab Massage (Tui Na An Mo). Tui na massage is often simply called tui na. Tui na means "push" and "grab" and refers to the two major techniques. Tui na has two main purposes: treating injuries and treating illnesses, especially in small children. When tui na is used for treating injuries, the main goal is to remove any blood stagnation (i.e., bruises) and qi blockage, thereby expediting the healing process. When it is used for treating sickness, the main goal is to regulate the abnormal qi circulation of the internal organs to a healthy state.

3. Cavity Press Massage (Dian Xue An Mo). Cavity press (dian xue) is the method of using the fingertips (especially the thumb tip) to press acupuncture cavities and certain other points (pressure points) on the body in order to manipulate the qi circulation. Acupuncture cavities are tiny spots distributed over the entire body where the qi of the body can be manipulated through massage or the insertion of needles. According to the new theory of bioelectricity, these cavities are places where the electrical conductivity is higher than in neighboring areas. They are therefore more sensitive to external stimulation and allow it to reach to the primary qi channels.

The theory of cavity press is very similar to that of acupuncture. There are a few differences, however. Acupuncture uses needles or other means of penetration such as lasers, while cavity press uses the fingertips to press the cavities. Acupuncture can reach much deeper than cavity press. Cavity press, though, is easier and more convenient than acupuncture, which requires equipment and a higher level of training. This means that anyone can learn to use cavity press to treat back pain after only a short period of training and some experience while acupuncture takes years of study to learn. A patient can use cavity press on himself or herself much more easily than acupuncture.

In cavity press, stagnant qi deep in the joint can be led to the surface. This improves the qi circulation in the joint area and reduces pain considerably. The use of cavity press to speed up the healing of injured joints is very common in the Chinese martial arts.

4. Qi Massage (Qi An Mo). Qi massage is commonly called "wai qi liao fa," which means "curing with external qi," and is commonly translated "qi healing" in the West today. This term implies that the massage is done through qi correspondence rather than touch.

To understand qi massage, you must recognize that qi is the bioelectricity circulating in the body. Because it is electricity, it can be conducted or led through electrical correspondence. Actually, everybody has the ability to do qi healing. For example, when your friend is sad, his qi status is yin (i.e., deficient). If you hold his hands or hug him, your qi will nourish him and he will immediately feel better. Humans have been doing this instinctively for a long time. The only difference between the average person and a qigong master is that the latter has trained in qi healing and can therefore be more effective.

In qi massage, a patient's back pain can be alleviated when the accumulated or stagnant qi is led away from the painful area. This will make the patient more relaxed and feel more comfortable. Naturally, like other massage, the healing process can be expedited. If you are interested in knowing more about Chinese massage, please refer to the book Chinese Qigong Massage: General Massage, published by YMAA.

Acupuncture. Acupuncture is another common method of temporarily stopping the pain and increasing the qi circulation in the joint area to help the healing. The main difference between massage and acupuncture is that the former usually stays only on the surface, while the latter can reach to the center of the joint. One of the advantages of acupuncture is that, if the back pain is caused by an old injury deep in the joint, it can heal the injury or at least remove some of the stagnated qi or bruising.

In acupuncture, needles or other newly developed means such as lasers or electricity are used to stimulate and increase the qi circulation. Although acupuncture can stop the pain and can, to some degree, cure back pain, the process can be so time-consuming as to be emotionally draining. Acupuncture is an external method, and while it may remove the symptoms, it can usually heal back pain only temporarily or only to a limited degree. Rebuilding the strength of the joints in the spine is a long-term proposition. Therefore, after back pain patients have received some treatment, the physician will frequently encourage them to get involved in qigong exercises to rebuild the joints.

Herbal Treatments. Herbal treatments are used together with massage and acupuncture, especially when back pain is caused by an injury. The herbs are usually made into a plaster or ground into powder, mixed with a liquid such as alcohol, and then applied to the joint. The dressing is changed every twenty-four hours.

Herbal treatments are used to alleviate pain, to increase the qi circulation and help the healing of injury, and to speed up the process of regrowth. Often oral herbs are prescribed by a Chinese physician to stop the pain and also to expedite the healing process.

Qigong Exercises. The main purpose of qigong exercise for back pain is to rebuild the strength of the joint by improving the qi circulation. As mentioned earlier, traditional Chinese physicians believe that since the body's cells are alive, as long as there is a proper supply of qi, physical damage can be repaired or even completely rebuilt. They have proven that broken bones can be mended completely, even in the elderly. Even some Western physicians have now come to believe that damaged or degenerated joints can be regrown back to their original healthy state.

Let us now summarize the similarities and differences in how Chinese and Western medicines treat back pain.

In Conclusion:


1. Neither Western nor Chinese diagnosis can pinpoint the cause of back pain clearly.

2. Western diagnosis is more detailed, and disease or injury is diagnosed using the theory that seeing is believing. Therefore, all diagnoses originate from an anatomical point of view. Different high-tech instruments have been developed and used to see internal physical problems. Although Chinese medicine today also uses x-rays for diagnosis, traditionally the diagnosis depended on surface appearance and feeling.

3. In Western diagnosis, different terminology has been created to explain the possible causes of back pain. There are not many different terms in Chinese medicine for back pain. In Chinese medicine, normally the causes of back pain are identified as only: muscle or tendon spasm, qi stagnation, bone's fracture, ligament's injury, arthritis, or a combination of these factors. From this, you can see that it is much clearer to identify different causes of back pain from a Western point of view.


1. Both Western and Chinese medicine use massage to alleviate pain by improving qi and blood circulation.

2. Western medicine uses both ice and heat to ease pain and inflammation, while Chinese medicine uses only heat. This is because Chinese doctors believe that the ice treatment can only slow down the qi and blood circulation and make the qi and blood condense deeper into the joint, thus hindering the healing process.

3. Western medicine uses drugs to make the body relax and to ease pain. Some with side effects. Chinese medicine often uses acupuncture and external herbal treatments to ease pain, keep swelling down, and to improve qi and blood circulation with little side effects.

4. Western medicine teaches patients physical exercises to strengthen and rebuild the spine. Chinese qigong teaches patients how to use the mind, coordinated with breathing techniques, to enhance the qi storage and circulation internally while also using physical qigong movements to rebuild the strength and health of the vertebrae.

5. Western medicine is not concerned with qi status when a patient has a back pain problem. Chinese medicine pays great attention to it. Teaching a patient how to rebuild the qi level and enhance the qi circulation in the injured area has been considered an important key to the healing process.

The above is an excerpt from The Pain-Free Back: 54 Simple Qigong Movements for Healing and Prevention by Dr. Yang, Jwing-Ming.