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Does Acupuncture Really Work for Back Pain?

05/22/2009 - News

Does Acupuncture Really Work for Back Pain?

By: June Chen, MD

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Acupuncture is a popular treatment for chronic low back pain, either in place of or in addition to traditional medical therapies. Recent European research has shown similar short-term benefits from both real and simulated acupuncture. In a study published in the May 11, 2009 of Archives of Internal Medicine, investigators from the Center for Health Studies in Seattle, WA and their colleagues replicate the previously-reported European findings.

 

The researchers studied a total of 638 adults with chronic low back pain in order to determine the importance of needle placement and skin penetration in eliciting acupuncture benefits. The study participants were randomly assigned to receive individualized acupuncture, standardized acupuncture, simulated or sham acupuncture, or usual medical care and they were followed for a period of one year. The researchers found that, after 8 weeks of treatment, participants who received acupuncture were more likely than those who received usual care to experience meaningful improvements in both low back function and pain symptoms.

 

After 1 year, participants who received acupuncture were more likely to experience improvements in function, but not in symptoms. Interestingly, although acupuncture was found to be effective for the treatment of chronic low back pain, it did not seem to matter if acupuncture needle placement was customized to the patient or if the needles actually penetrated the skin. This could mean that the benefit of acupuncture comes from placebo or non-specific effects, rather than physiologically important stimulation. However, further studies are needed to better understand acupuncture’s actual mechanism of action in treating low back pain.

 

Source: Arch Intern Med. 2009;169(9):858-866.

Created on: 05/21/2009
Reviewed on: 05/22/2009

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