(NaturalNews) Acupuncture is an old eastern form of medicine. It deals with putting needles into specific points in the body to relieve pain or to help with other therapeutic purposes. According to Chinese medical theory, acupuncture points are located on energy meridians alongside which qi flows. This study set out to find out if acupuncture was more effective than traditional treatments in treating and relieving chronic low back pain.
A group of researchers with Group Health conducted the largest study on back pain and acupuncture in the United States. The study was called Stimulating Points to Investigate Needling Efficacy (SPINE), and it can be found in the May 11, 2009 issue of the Archives of Internal Medicine. The study was led by Dr. Daniel Cherkin, who works with the Group Health Center for Health Studies in Seattle. 638 randomly selected adult patients were included at two nonprofit health plans: Group Health Cooperative in Seattle and Northern California Kaiser Permanente in Oakland. All of the patients were asked to rate their chronic low back pain on a scale of 0-to-10. They all rated their back pain as at least a 3. None of the study participants had tried acupuncture before. They were randomly divided into four groups:
1.Individualized acupuncture with a needle, a diagnostician did a customized prescription for acupuncture points. 2.Standard needle acupuncture using a single prescription for acupuncture points on the back and the backside of the legs. Experts consider this treatment to be effective in relieving chronic low back pain in the majority of cases. 3.Simulated acupuncture using a toothpick in a needle guide tube instead of a needle, without penetrating the skin. 4.Standard medical care which the patients would have gotten anyway, and that all patients received.
All of the patients were treated two times per week for three weeks, and then once per week for four weeks. Researchers measured any improvements and changes in symptoms after eight weeks, 26 weeks and 52 weeks. After eight weeks, all three acupuncture groups were doing substantially better, compared to the standard care group, which was functioning only slightly better. The benefits of the acupuncture group lasted for a year, but started to wane over time.
"We don't know why people got back pain relief from the simulated acupuncture" said Karen J. Sherman, Cherkin's co-author. "Historically, some types of acupuncture have used non-penetrating needles. Such treatments may involve physiological effects that make a clinical difference." Or it might be all about the mind-body connection, she said. "Maybe the context in which people get treatment has effects that are more important than the mechanically induced effects." Western medicine does not have highly effective medical treatments for chronic back pain, Cherkin said. Back pain is the biggest reason why Americans use alternative therapies like acupuncture. "The findings of this research show that acupuncture-like treatments, including simulated acupuncture, can elicit positive responses," said Josephine P. Briggs, M.D., director of National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine. "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."