New findings show that both fake and real acupuncture are effective for relief of chronic back pain. Study results appearing in the Archives of Internal Medicine show that both real and simulated acupuncture with toothpicks at acupuncture points was more effective than standard medical care for treating chronic back pain.
Researchers compared the effects of standard and tailored acupuncture treatments, fake acupuncture using toothpicks to mimic insertion of acupuncture needles, and traditional medical care in 638 adult with chronic back pain. The purpose was to expand on previous studies showing that simulated acupuncture seems be an effective treatment for chronic back pain. Back pain has become one of the top reasons that people seek acupuncture therapy. Standard medical care for back pain costs $37 billion annually.
After 26 to 52 weeks, the study participants were asked to report symptoms of back pain and level of dysfunction. Patients received ten weeks of standard, fake, or tailored acupuncture, in 158, 157, and 162 individuals respectively, while 161 patients received standard care for chronic back pain.
The study authors write, “Compared with usual care, individualized acupuncture, standardized acupuncture and simulated acupuncture had beneficial and persisting effects on chronic back pain." At eight weeks, sixty percent of the patients had significant improvement in symptoms of back pain from receiving either type of acupuncture - real or simulated - compared to 39 percent of patients who received standard medical care. The study also showed that the effects of acupuncture endured for treating chronic back pain.
At one year, only 50 percent of the study group had enduring relief of back pain from receiving standard medical care, compared to 59 and 65 percent who received simulated, standard or tailored acupuncture therapy.
The researchers are not sure why either fake or real acupuncture works so well to relieve and provide sustained relief of chronic back pain. The study shows that simulated or real acupuncture may be safer than taking medication, more effective than standard medical care, and can provide lasting relief of chronic back pain, regardless of how it works.
(Arch Intern Med. 2009;169:858-866.