acupuncture lower back pain

A huge acupuncture study into chronic pain was published in April last year. It used nearly 18,000 patient’s data to address the question of whether or not acupuncture was beneficial for a variety of pain conditions, including back pain, osteoarthritis, knee pain and headache. It found, overwhelmingly, that acupuncture was better than sham, more than placebo and better than standard medical treatment for all of the above conditions. It was also found to be safe and cost effective. Great news for acupuncture!

Well, this dataset has now been updated to include nearly 21,000 patients across 39 trials. 13 more than previously identified. Again, they concluded that, ‘Acupuncture was superior to both sham and no acupuncture control for each pain condition.’ They also noted that these effects persist for at least a year, with at most a 15% decrease in effect at that point.

Interestingly they also pointed out that differences in the effect size of acupuncture across the studies, compared to other treatments, was not as a result of the acupuncture treatment, but as a result of the control. For instance, if sham acupuncture consisted of needling at a different location, as opposed to pricking the skin or using sham needles, then the difference was reduced. This is because inserting an acupuncture needle anywhere in the body will elicit a physiological response and is a reason why many researchers are now suggesting that this type of sham acupuncture is not an appropriate control. Such changes would certainly improve acupuncture’s studied effects and appreciation among researchers and hopefully go towards proving acupuncture’s benefits.

The researchers finished by stating, ‘referral for a course of acupuncture treatment is a reasonable option for a patient with chronic pain.’ Hopefully this huge piece of updated research will go towards getting acupuncture accepted on the NHS and making it more accessible to the millions that need it.


Vickers et al. Acupuncture for chronic pain