The report -- published in the British Medical Journal -- studied 241 back pain sufferers over the course of two years. The patients were divided into two groups, both of which underwent traditional treatments for lower back pain such as medication, physical therapy and exercise. One group also received 10 acupuncture sessions -- the ancient Chinese art that involves placing fine needles at specific meridians of the body -- over a three-month period.
The researchers surveyed the patients for satisfaction and pain levels, and after three months there was almost no difference between the two groups. By the 12-month follow-up, the acupuncture group showed a minor improvement over the traditionally treated group, and by the 24-month mark, the difference between the two groups was greater.
"That's a remarkable finding, in that normally you would expect the benefit of the treatment to wear off," researcher Hugh Macpherson said. "This is the first study to show this growing gap up to the two-year point. It is quite unique in that sense."
The researchers also performed a separate cost-analysis study in which they discovered the average price of treating the traditional group was $647, while adding the acupuncture regimen only increased the treatment costs to $863, leading them to conclude the treatments are cost-effective.
Experts say lower back pain is not only one of the most common medical complaints, but is also a leading cause of workers calling in sick.