Acupuncture for back pain
Many people who have chronic low back pain have found acupuncture to be helpful. But the scientific evidence to support these claims has been mixed, partly because it can be difficult to devise a good form of sham acupuncture for comparison.
Acupuncture for back pain involves inserting very thin needles to various depths into strategic points on your body. Scientific studies have indicated that sham acupuncture works just as well as real acupuncture for back pain. A key point, though, is that in several studies, both sham acupuncture and real acupuncture relieved low back pain better than having no treatment at all.
This could mean that sham acupuncture — placing needles in locations not associated with traditional treatment points — could be having an effect, or it could mean that the effects of acupuncture may be due in part to a placebo effect.
The research on acupuncture is growing, but interpreting it is still a challenge. For now, most studies seem to indicate that, for most people, acupuncture results in some beneficial effect with a low risk of side effects when provided by a well-trained practitioner.
According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM), there are “promising findings” in the use of acupuncture in treating back pain, particularly in patients who do not obtain considerable relief from traditional treatments. Eric Manheimer, study author and director of database and evaluation for the University of Maryland Center for Integrative Medicine, commented about the results of a study conducted by researchers from the University of Maryland School of Medicine and the Peninsula Medical School, Plymouth, U.K. He said study results concluded, “For people with chronic low back pain, this analysis shows that acupuncture is clearly effective in providing considerable pain relief.” He stated that study participants experienced “true relief” from back pain with acupuncture treatments.
Additional studies confirm acupuncture successfully treats lower back pain
The Healthcare Institute cites a study conducted by Dongzhimen Hospital in Beijing, China with a group of 60 participants who were experiencing chronic low back pain. Acupuncture successfully reduced pain in study participants so much so that there were fewer days of missed work due to back pain. Another study produced similar results, with a group of 236 study participants. Researchers concluded acupuncture has “beneficial and persistent effectiveness” against chronic lower back pain (CLBP). After one study concluded that acupuncture benefits were no better at relieving pain than sham, or placebo acupuncture, a new and larger study disputed the earlier study result. Time reported study results, conducted by researchers at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center. Results of that study concluded “the benefits of real acupuncture are due to something more than the placebo effect.” Research leader Andrew Vickers, epidemiologist and biostatistician at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, stated “The effects of acupuncture are statistically significant and different from those of sham or placebo treatments.” He also explained, “So we conclude that the effects aren’t due merely to the placebo effect.”
Number of acupuncture treatments needed to relieve the pain
As with conventional medical treatments, how often you visit your acupuncturist and the number of treatments necessary to obtain maximum relief will depend on a number of factors. Document each day that back pain occurs, along with debilitating factors, such as if you are unable to go to work or to the grocery store. Rate your pain on a scale of 1 to 10. This will be more helpful than trying to remember off the top of your head at your first visit. There is no set number of acupuncture treatments that will successfully relieve your back pain. Individualized acupuncture treatment tailored to your specific needs will give the greatest potential for optimal lower back pain relief.
So if other treatments haven't helped your low back pain, it may be worth trying acupuncture. But if your back pain doesn't begin to improve within a few weeks, acupuncture may not be the right treatment for you.
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