Acupuncture Demonstrated Effective for Chronic Low Back Pain


Pain is the number one reason why Americans now are seeking out complementary and alternative medicine such as acupuncture.[1] But is acupuncture really effective for pain? Some meta-analyses of randomized-controlled clinical trials of acupuncture have supported its efficacy.[2], [3] However, it is still controversial whether the effect of real acupuncture is more than placebo.

Today, we would like to review an article published in April 2013 in the journal Spine,[4] which looks at whether acupuncture is effective for people with axial low back pain lasting more than three months.

This is a multi-center, patient-assessor blind, randomized, sham-controlled clinical trial involving 116 adult participants.  Patients were randomized into one of the following two groups: the treatment group and a sham-control study group.  The sham treatment was carried out using semi-blunt needles on non-acupuncture points without penetration. These sham acupuncture needles have previously been demonstrated to be credible. Both groups received 12 sessions of acupuncture (twice a week for 6 weeks). Individualized treatment was allowed in the real acupuncture group, based on the meridian patterns involved. During the study duration, participants were not allowed to receive any additional therapy such as physical therapy or analgesics, so not to confound the study results. This study followed the guidelines of STRICTA (Standards for Reporting Interventions for Clinical Trials of Acupuncture).

[1] Complementary and Alternative Medicine Use Among Adults and Children: United States, 2007.

[2] Ernst E , White AR. Acupuncture for back pain: a meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials . Arch Intern Med 1998; 158:2235–41.

[3] van Tulder MW , Cherkin DC , Berman B , et al. The effectiveness of acupuncture in the management of acute and chronic low back pain. A systematic review within the framework of the Cochrane Collaboration Back Review Group. Spine 1999; 24:1113–23.

[4] Cho YJ, Song YK, Cha YY et al. Acupuncture for Chronic low back pain. Spine 2013; 38(7):549-557.