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Acupuncture Sticks it to Low Back Pain


October 25, 2006

By: Shelagh McNally for Back1

An ancient Chinese medicine is proving to be an effective treatment for low back pain, according to two new studies published in the British Medical Journal.

Approximately 8out of 10 Americans will experience back pain at some point in their lives. The cost of treating this pain is estimated to be $25 billion annually. While doctors prescribe a variety of therapies that range from over-the-counter medications, prescription drugs, physical therapy, to surgery – there simply isn’t one effective treatment. However, acupuncture has slowly been gaining ground as a cost-effective, non-intrusive alternative treatment and researchers are beginning to explore this ancient technique.
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What is acupuncture?
  • Acupuncture is one of the oldest, most commonly used medical procedures in the world.
  • It originated in China more than 2,000 years ago. American acupuncture incorporates medical traditions from China, Japan, Korea, and other countries.
  • Acupuncture has steadily gained in popularity in the States; there are now over 2,000 practitioners in the United States.
  • A federal survey in 2002 put the number of Americans who have tried acupuncture at 8.2 million.
  • Treatment stimulates anatomical points on the body by a variety of techniques using thin, solid, metallic needles that are manipulated by the hands or by electrical stimulation.
  • Interested in finding an acupuncturist? Click here to start your search. Be sure to the references of your acupuncturist before being treated.

    Courtesy of the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine


  • A two-year study conducted by Dr. Hugh MacPherson from the University of York along with colleagues at Sheffield University found that acupuncture had a cumulative effect on lower back pain. The study looked at a group of 241 adults aged 18 to 65 with persistent non-specific low back pain. Patients were randomly selected for the traditional back treatment program or a grouping of 10 acupuncture treatments. Use of pain medication and satisfaction with treatment were tracked. At the end of 12 months, the acupuncture patients showed a small but consistent improvement in their back pain and at the end of 24 months, their pain had improved significantly.

    Another study sponsored by the Canadian Union of Postal Workers and the Canadian College of Naturopathic Medicine (CCNM) looked at 80 postal workers with low back pain. One group received naturopathic treatments that included weekly acupuncture and daily relaxation exercises. The second group followed the standard treatment of basic exercises outlined in a general information booklet, as well as some pain medication. At the end of 12 weeks each participant completed several lower back pain questionnaires, including the Oswestry and Roland & Morris surveys.

    Those in the naturopathic care group had a 20 percent decrease in pain while the control group had an increase in pain of 8.8 percent. Postal workers who underwent naturopathic treatment for low back pain also reported improvement in their physical and emotional health.

    Researchers from both studies suggest that acupuncture may indeed be a cost effective treatment for dealing with back pain. A 10-treatment plan for acupuncture ranges from $600 to $800, while back surgery can cost upwards of $16,000.

    Last updated: 25-Oct-06