Acupuncture improves lower back pain, compared with no treatment, German researchers report. However, they found that a minimal intervention consisting of superficial needle placement at non-acupuncture points resulted in similar improvements.
Past studies have yielded inconclusive results concerning the effectiveness of acupuncture to treat lower back pain. To further investigate, a team lead by Dr. Benno Brinkhaus, from the Charite University Medical Center in Berlin, evaluated nearly 300 patients in what the researchers believe is the largest trial to assess the effectiveness of acupuncture for lower back pain.
The patients were randomly assigned to “real” acupuncture treatment, “sham,” or “minimal” acupuncture, or no acupuncture treatment. Real and minimal acupuncture consisted of 12 treatment sessions over 8 weeks. All subjects completed a pain questionnaire at 8, 26 and 52 weeks.
The results, published in the Archives of Internal Medicine, showed that after 8 weeks of treatment, pain intensity had decreased by a mean 28.7 percent in the acupuncture group, 23.6 percent in the minimal acupuncture group, and 6.9 percent in the control group.
At weeks 26 and 52, back pain was still reduced, with no significant differences between the full-acupuncture and the minimal-acupuncture group, the authors report.
Finally, the authors note that it is possible the selection of acupuncturists influenced the results, and suggest that “the correct location of needles plays only a limited role.”