Acupuncture for Prolapsed Disc

​A prolapsed disc, also known as a slipped or herniated disc, is a  major cause of back pain and other problems. The disc in question is a rubber-like shock absorber situated between the vertebrae, which are the bones that make up the spinal column. The discs have a softer centre of jelly like material; a disc prolapse occurs when this softer material breaks out through a weakened part of the rubbery wall of the disc. Some inflammation may develop around this part of the disc, and the escaping material may press on to one of the nerves which pass out of the spinal chord in this area.

Disc prolapses may occur in any part of the spine, but commonly are found in the lower back.  They can cause severe back pain which often comes on suddenly and may be eased by lying down. If the disc is pressing on a nerve, it can cause other symptoms which are felt as if they are in the part of the body which the nerve in question runs through. Prolapsed discs in the lower back, for example,  may cause symptoms such as pain, numbness and pins and needles in the buttock, leg or foot.  Conventional treatment usually relies on painkillers and the hope that the condition will naturally improve over time, which it often does. If not, surgery may be considered.

Disc Prolapse and TCM

Acupuncture treatment given within 48 hours of the onset of pain caused by disc prolapse can have remarkable effects on the level of pain and the eventual course of the whole episode. After this time acupuncture can be used to reduce inflammation, stop pain and smooth the flow of Qi through the affected area. This effect may be enhanced, depending on the precise symptoms of the patient, with moxa or electro acupuncture, and a topical herbal remedy may also be prescribed. Massage and cupping may also help in relaxing the surrounding musculature when this has become tight and tense.

Acupuncture treatment can also help by calming the mind, which in itself may reduce the pain; pain tends to make us tense, which in turn makes the pain worse, so treatment which helps us to become mentally relaxed and calm can be of great benefit.  Furthermore, because our approach to treatment is holistic, we also aim to improve health generally which has a knock on effect in speeding up the body’s own healing process.

For example, someone whose digestive system is impaired in some way, may not be getting as much nourishment from the food they eat as they could do, which indirectly undermines their ability to heal themselves. So in this example treatment which also restores and balances the digestive system may be useful.

Does it Work?

A review of the evidence from around the world (1) on the effectiveness of acupuncture in cases of low back problems related to lumbar disc prolapse concluded that acupuncture is capable of reducing the need for more invasive forms of treatment such as surgery. There isof course a considerable body of evidence supporting the effectiveness of acupuncture for low back pain in general; for example a recent (2006) very large scale trial in Germany (2) involving over 1100 patients found that acupuncture is much more effective at treating chronic low back pain than conventional therapies (drugs, physical therapy and exercise).


1 Longworth M & McCarthy P (1997) A Review of Research on Acupuncture for the Treatment of Lumbar Disc Protusions and Associated Neurological Symptomology The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine  3(1) 55-76

2 Haake M. et al (2007)  German Acupuncture Trials (GERAC) for chronic low bac pain:randomized,multicenter, blinded, parallel-group trial with 3 groups. Arch Intern Med. 2007 Sep 24;167(17):1892-8


The Sean Barkes Clinic does not claim to cure any conventional medical disease states. Traditional Chinese Medicine seeks to re-establish and maintain the harmonious function of the human body-mind using tried and tested principles that have been discovered and matured over millennia. A Western medical diagnosis provides very little by way of insight in informing a Chinese Medical diagnosis. Patients usually recognise their own condition in terms of the medical disease category that they have been given by their GP or other conventional medical practitioner. The research presented here is merely an indication of the potential to draw parallels between Traditional Chinese Medicine and Modern Western Medicine.

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