Acupuncture For Low Back Pain

Woman getting an acupuncture treatment in a spa

Treatment Ratings

R E S C U R

RISK: 5/5

While the risks of health complications due to acupuncture are low, side effects are possible. These can include:

  • Soreness – After acupuncture, soreness, minor bleeding and bruising at needles sites may occur.
  • Organ Injury – If needles are pushed too deeply, they can perforate internal organs such as the lung, however such instances are extremely rare.
  • Infections – Acupuncturists are required to be licensed and to use sterile and disposable needles.
  • Pregnancy – Acupuncture can sometimes stimulate labor, resulting in a premature pregnancy.

Sources:

Lao, Lixing; Hamilton, Gayle R; Fu, Jianping; Berman, Brian M. Alternative Therapies in Health and Medicine 9.1(Jan/Feb 2003): 72-83.

E

EFFECTIVENESS: 3/5

Traditional Chinese medicine attributes the purpose of acupuncture to the stimulating of the body’s Qi (pronounced “chee”), or energy flow, which control the circulation of blood and affects the body’s response to illness, pain and disease. By inserting needles into specific pathways called meridians that act as a kind of channel for the Qi, acupuncturists can disrupt blockages and restore the body’s normal Qi flow.

Acupuncture is now more widely accepted in western medical circles despite a lack of definitive understanding of how it works. Theories include speeding up the relay of electromagnetic signals, the release of pain-killing chemicals or the release of natural opioids (endorphins) , which can lessen pain perception in the brain.

Research has indicated that it is effective in the reduction of lower back pain. A recent review of twenty-two acupuncture studies found that acupuncture provided effective relief in the short-term. In comparison to standard treatments, acupuncture was found to be more effective than some conventional treatments.

The National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health reports:

  • A 2012 analysis of data on participants in acupuncture studies looked at back and neck pain together and found that actual acupuncture was more helpful than either no acupuncture or simulated acupuncture.
  • A 2010 review by the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality found that acupuncture relieved low-back pain immediately after treatment but not over longer periods of time.
  • A 2008 systematic review of studies on acupuncture for low-back pain found strong evidence that combining acupuncture with usual care helps more than usual care alone. The same review also found strong evidence that there is no difference between the effects of actual and simulated acupuncture in people with low-back pain.

S

SELF CARE: 1/5

While it may be possible to self-administer acupuncture, we believe that is unlikely. Thus there are very limited options for self care.

C

COST: 5/5

Generally acupuncture appears to be a fairly inexpensive treatment. Individual acupuncture sessions can cost anywhere from $75 to $95, with regular visits $50 to $70. Prices are similar nationwide and do not differ greatly whether the service is by a clinic or private practitioner.

U

USEFULNESS: 4/5

Acupuncture is generally safe relatively inexpensive and has demonstrated efficacy for low back pain. It should be provided as part of a program focused on active care according to most guidelines.

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