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Back Pain Health Center

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Study: Acupuncture Eases Low Back Pain

Patients Report More Pain Relief From Acupuncture Than Conventional Treatment
WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

Sept. 24, 2007 -- Acupuncture proved to be more effective than conventional lower back pain treatments in a new study, but it was no more effective than a sham needle procedure.

The German study compared outcomes among 1,162 patients with chronic low back pain treated with traditional Chinese acupuncture; sham acupuncture; or a conventional approach to treating back pain using drugs, physical therapy, and exercise.

The study is the largest investigation of acupuncture vs. conventional nonsurgical treatment for lower back pain ever reported, researchers say.

"Acupuncture represents a highly promising and effective treatment option for chronic back pain," researcher Heinz Endres, MD, tells WebMD. "Patients experienced not only reduced pain intensity, but also reported improvements in the disability that often results from back pain -- and therefore in their quality of life."

Acupuncture for Back Pain

Endres says up to 85% of people will suffer from low back pain at some point in their lives. The pain may last for a few days or continue as chronic low back pain for months and years.

While a recent review of research showed acupuncture to be useful for the treatment of low back pain when given in addition to other therapies, the latest study was designed to determine if acupuncture is an effective treatment on its own.

Acupuncture was delivered in 10, 30-minute sessions conducted over six weeks. Patients who received conventional treatments had a similar number of total treatments, which included exercise, pain medication, and nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs).

The acupuncture groups were allowed to use medication for acute episodes of back pain only. This consisted of NSAID use no more than two days a week during the treatment period.

Traditional acupuncture involved inserting needles at fixed points and depths on the body and manipulating the needles in accordance with ancient Chinese practice.

With the sham treatment, needles were inserted in the lower back at shallower depths at non-acupuncture points and the needles were not manipulated.

Patients who got the traditional and sham acupuncture treatments were almost twice as likely to report treatment-related responses six months later as patients who did not have acupuncture.

Responses were defined as a 33% improvement in pain or a 12% improvement in functional ability.

"Because acupuncture has a low risk of side effects and few contraindications, it should be added to the catalogue of treatments recommended for acute and chronic back pain, even though -- just as for any other form of treatment -- there will always be some patients who do not respond," Endres says.

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