When treating back pain in Chinese Medicine, acupuncturists often focus on 2 aspects of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM): the kidney system and the concept of ‘qi (energy) & Blood Stagnation’. The low back is often referred to as the “mansion of the kidneys,” which means it is directly related to the health of the kidney system. Qi and blood stagnation are major contributors to low back pain, as the back relies on enough stored kidney qi for proper function.

Qi and blood stagnation can be due to external factors such as pathogens, trauma, or internal weakness of qi and blood flow related to diet and lifestyle.

Many of the bad habits we develop can induce back pain are repeated poor choices in our everyday lives. This causes qi and blood stagnation and/or tax our kidney system. There are 6 common habits that may be hurting your back.

Let’s look at some of the common problem areas:

1. Sleep:

We spend, or at least should spend, about one-third of our lives sleeping, so it makes sense that how we sleep is going to have a huge impact on how we feel. A major factor that can make or break our backs is our sleep position. The best sleep position is on the back or even the side–as long as you keep a pillow between your knees. This will help keep the spine in alignment throughout the night. Another factor to keep in mind regarding sleeping is mattress quality. Finding the right one can be a challenge as there isn’t one type of mattress that’s best for everyone. The best mattress to keep your spine aligned depends on your body type, hip size etc., so shop around!  The right mattress and sleeping position is crucial in keeping proper qi and blood flow in the body.

Person sleeping in bed. Stretching their hands above their head. Incorrect sleep position is one of 6 habits that are hurting your back

2.  Sitting: 

Let’s face it, modern day life has most of us sitting more than ever. Whether we are at a computer, commuting, or just sitting for long periods of time, the mechanics of too much sitting can increase muscle stiffness and put pressure on the discs of the spine. Simple standing stretches or short walks to break up these routines can get qi and blood moving again and prevent further stagnation in the lower back. It is also important to make sure you are sitting properly in your chair to avoid injuring your back further.

3. Posture: 

Even if we aren’t living a sedentary lifestyle and are standing and moving more, we need to pay attention to our posture. For many people, slouching is one of the hardest habits to break. It takes constant awareness to reset a hunched position to one with our shoulders back, chest lifted and our center of gravity stabilized. It’s a worthwhile effort though, as it opens up our breathing, delivers oxygen to our cells, and allows for a rejuvenating flow of qi and blood. 

Clipboard with black and white picture of human spine on top.

4. Lifting heavy items: 

We’ve all heard the expression “Lift with the knees, not with the back”, but when in a rush many of us make the mistake of bending at the waist to lift a heavy item. We end up putting tremendous pressure on the lower spine and back muscles! Remember to pause, get help when needed, or use tools if necessary. Slow down and practice martial artist-like awareness when your body needs to maneuver with strength and stability.

5. The wrong shoes:

 If your feet hurt at the end of the day, you should take a look at your shoes. Are they really supporting your feet? Do they fit right? You may even want to consider orthopedic shoes depending on your foot shape and how ‘on your feet’ you are from day to day. If our feet are not positioned right, it can cause the hip and lower back to become misaligned.

Another reason this is important is because the kidney channel begins at the bottom of the foot and travels up the legs.

We need to make sure that energy in that channel is not impeded as it is a direct source of low back support.

Picture of white sneakers stepping into puddle.

6. Nutrition:

Poor nutritional habits can directly affect our low backs. Some of these habits include eating kidney depleting foods (overly salted, processed snacks) and not drinking enough water. This is another bad habit that can tax not just the kidney qi, but all organ systems and affect back muscles by pulling weight forward. 


For additional assistance in changing these habits, moving qi and blood stagnation, and supporting your kidneys for back pain relief and better overall health, get in touch with our offices! Acupuncture and massage therapy are great ways for some additional back support.

If you’re interested in learning more about how proper nutrition can relieve back pain, please schedule an appointment with our naturopathic doctor, Dr. Mary Hall. She provides nutrition counseling in the Williston office.