Acupuncture may help chronic back pain
Acupuncture appears to be an effective treatment for chronic back ache with sufferers reporting a 20 per cent reduction in pain, according to research.
However, a “fake” version of the ancient needle therapy also seems to have the same effect, a study published in the Archives of Internal Medicine found.
The results suggest belief in the benefits of acupuncture may be the key to its success.
Scientists tested the effects of acupuncture on 638 sufferers of chronic back pain. The trial, called Spine (Stimulating Points to Investigate Needling Efficacy), was the largest scientifically meaningful acupuncture study ever carried out.
Patients were randomly divided into groups receiving standard medical care, or usual treatment plus one of two genuine acupuncture therapies or simulated acupuncture on real acupuncture sites.
Participants were treated twice a week for three weeks, and then weekly for a month.
After eight weeks 60 per cent of the patients receiving any acupuncture including the sham treatment experienced ‘clinically meaningful’ improvement compared to 39 per cent of patients receiving normal care.
The difference between the improvement in the acupuncture groups and the normal care group narrowed when pain scores were taken one year later.
Trial leader Dr Daniel Cherkin, from the Group Health Centre for Health Studies in Seattle, US, said: “We found that simulated acupuncture, without penetrating the skin, produced as much benefit as needle acupuncture – and that raises questions about how acupuncture works.”
An unknown physical process may be involved, but another explanation could be a “mind-over-body” effect, he suggested.
Dr Cherkin added: “We don’t know precisely why people got back pain relief from the simulated acupuncture,” said. “Maybe the context in which people get treatment has effects that are more important than the mechanically induced effects.”
Dr Josephine Briggs, director of the US National Centre for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM) which funded the Spine trial, said: “The findings of this research show that acupuncture-like treatments, including simulated acupuncture, can elicit positive responses.
“This adds to the growing body of evidence that something meaningful is taking place during acupuncture treatments outside of actual needling. Future research is needed to delve deeper into what is evoking these responses.”