A needle or even just a toothpick prick of the back in the right areas, combined with traditional medical treatments, may be a more effective treatment for back pain. For those with back pain, many days are spent in agony and medication alone doesn’t always do the trick. However, there seems to be other ways to help deal with back pain, including acupuncture or what some term as “fake acupuncture.”
In an attempt to study acupuncture treatments as it pertains to relieving back pain, a group of researchers with Group Health conducted the largest study of back pain and acupuncture in the U.S., called SPINE (Stimulating Points to Investigate Needling Efficacy). Acupuncture, a process where a needle is inserted in the skin of the back and into meridians or channels where some doctors believe vital energy flows, has been used for centuries by the Chinese to relieve pain and provide other benefits, but doctors in the U.S. are still wary of the therapy and are trying to learn more.
The new study was recently published in the May 11 issue of the Archives of Internal Medicine. The study involved 638 randomly selected participants with the mean age of 47 who reportedly suffered from chronic lower back pain, with about two-thirds reporting lower back pain for over a year. A large majority of the participants reported recent use of medication to help with the pain and they were allowed to continue their medications during the study. Volunteers had not previously received acupuncture treatments to treat their back pain.
The participants were seperated into four groups and given regular medical treatment, with two of the groups receiving a form of acupuncture Miami treatment. One group received standard acupuncture treatment; another received individually prescribed acupuncture treatment. Another group received “fake” acupuncture treatment, where a toothpick was used to poke the skin in the acupuncture points, but not pierce it as does traditional acupuncture treatment. The last group was given standard medical treatment including medication and physical therapy. Participants received 10 treatments over a seven-week period and follow-ups were conducted at 26 and 52 weeks. After treatment, 60 percent of the participants who received any type of acupuncture, including the treatment with a toothpick, reported pain relief, compared to only 39 percent of the participants who received the more traditional medical treatment. A year following the treatment, at the participants’ follow-ups, they all reported around the same pain scores, but the groups that received acupuncture were able to function better than the group that received traditional treatment.
Dr. Daniel Cherkin, who led the study and works with the Group Health Center for Health Studies in Seattle said, “Our study shows that you don’t need to stick needles into people to get the same effect.” According to Karen Sherman, also with the Group Health Center and also worked on the study, “Historically, some types of acupuncture have used non-penetrating needles. Such treatments may involve physiological effects that make a clinical difference.”
Millions of dollars are spent annually on treatment for back pain in the U.S. and it is one medical condition that continues to have patients complaining of no relief. Even with traditional pain therapy, such as medication and physical therapy. Based on the newly released study, acupuncture or even simulated acupuncture in combination with traditional medical care, could help patients manage back pain better.