Acupuncture Helps Ease Back Pain

Acupuncture Helps Ease Back Pain

I was listening to NPR this morning and was so excited to hear a story about the benefits of acupuncture for chronic low back pain. In my own practice, I have seen how quickly and effectively acupuncture can relieve chronic pain. Most people feel some level of relief after just one treatment and can expect long-term benefits after a full course of treatment.

The study, sponsored by the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM), part of the National Institutes of Health, followed 638 adults over a one-year period. Each participant received 10 treatments over seven weeks and the outcomes (dysfunction and symptom “bothersomeness”) were measured at baseline, 8, 26, and 52 weeks. The patients were divided into four groups (usual care and three acupuncture groups). Those in the usual care group received medicine and checkups from their doctors. The other groups received usual care plus some form of acupuncture (individualized, standardized, or simulated).

Daniel C. Cherkin, PhD, a senior investigator at Group Health Center for Health Studies (CHS) in Seattle, was interviewed for the NPR article. He explained that “most people got better. It’s just that the people who got acupuncture were more likely to do better.” About 40% of the usual care group saw improvements, while about 60% of the acupuncture group improved. All three acupuncture groups had similar results.

The researchers have no clear explanation for the similar effects of the three acupuncture groups, especially the simulated group. In a video, Dr. Cherkin explains that the simulated group used the same points as the standardized group but without needle insertion.

From my point of view, it makes sense that this group would also have a positive reaction. Toyohari acupuncture is a form of Japanese meridian therapy developed by blind practitioners and uses a non-insertion needling technique. This form of acupuncture could help explain the conflicting results.

In the CHS press release, Josephine P. Briggs, MD, director of NCCAM, offers her own opinion.

“The findings of this research show that acupuncture-like treatments, including simulated acupuncture, can elicit positive responses. 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.”

The entire journal article can be found in the May issue of Archives of Internal Medicine.

1 Comment

  1. Re: Emanating Presence

    It’s really difficult to use sham acupuncture as a control group.

    I mean if Diane can generate feelings of Qi in your body just by putting her hand near you, why can’t sham acupuncture elicit comparable reactions?

    In the end, I’d say it’s the energy. If Jesus could cause a man to be healed just from touching his cloak, he must have an emanating presence too. I say all we healers or healers-to-be should learn to generate and maintain emanating presence.

Leave a Reply


OHSU Comprehensive Pain Center
Center for Health and Healing
3303 SW Bond Ave
15th floor
Portland, OR 97239