People suffering from chronic low back pain who received acupuncture or simulated acupuncture treatments fared better than those receiving only conventional care, according to a recent study published in the Archives of Internal Medicine.
This trial, led by the Group Health Center for Health Studies in Seattle, was funded by the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine, part of the National Institutes of Health.
[w]e were pleased to find that acupuncture-like treatments were helpful for persons suffering from chronic back pain, the report stated. However, the finding that real acupuncture produced no greater benefit than simulated acupuncture raises important questions about acupunctures mechanisms of action.
This trial enrolled 638 adults with chronic low back pain who had never had acupuncture and who rated their pain as at least a three on a 10-point scale. They were assigned to one of four groups: individualized acupuncture, involving a customized prescription for acupuncture points; standardized acupuncture, using a single prescription for acupuncture points; simulated acupuncture, which mimics needle acupuncture but does not involve actual penetration of the skin; or usual care, which is standard medical care.
The researchers found that at eight weeks the individualized, standardized, and simulated acupuncture groups all improved their dysfunction scores significantly more than the group receiving usual care. These benefits persisted for one year, though they diminished over time. However, there was no significant difference between the groups receiving the needle and simulated forms of acupuncture. Thus, while acupuncture was found effective in treating low back pain, neither tailoring acupuncture needle sites to an individual patient nor penetrating the skin appears to be important for receiving therapeutic benefit.