Treatment focus: Acupuncture and Back Pain

Most of us will know someone with back pain. It may have affected you personally, or someone you know – and I can tell you that it’s certainly affected me. Depressingly, if you haven’t experienced it yet, the chances are that you will at some point.

The condition affects more than 1.1 million people in the UK, with 95% of patients suffering from problems affecting the lower back. And it costs the NHS and care providers in the over £1b a year.*

There’s no surprise why that is – we spend too long lounging about in front of the telly, work in sedentary jobs and don’t exercise enough. Having said that, my dad had a slight dowagers hump, worked in an office, never exercised and loved watching telly – never had as much as a twinge…

Acupuncture is well known anecdotally as a treatment for back pain. But there’s also a great deal of evidence to support its efficacy. *Research has shown that acupuncture is significantly better than no treatment and at least as good as (if not better than) standard medical care for back pain (Witt 2006; Haake 2007; Cherkin 2009; Sherman 2009a). It appears to be particularly useful as an adjunct to conventional care, for patients with more severe symptoms and for those wishing to avoid analgesic drugs (Sherman 2009a, 2009b; Lewis 2010).

This encouraged NICE to recommend its use within the NHS. Your doctor can refer you for 8-10 acupuncture treatments as a first line treatment for persistent, non-specific low back pain. And that’s got to be a good thing.

It works in numerous ways: *providing pain relief, reducing inflammation, improving muscle stiffness and joint mobility, reducing the need for medication, complementing rehabilitation exercises and over the long-term, and is more cost effective than other treatments.

That’s the ‘science bit’, but it only tells part of the story, because studies will only have used specific acupuncture points in order to standardize their research. Traditional Chinese Medicine doesn’t really work in this way and your acupuncturist may feel that the reason for your back pain may be related to something else – and use other acupuncture points in their treatment.

It’s personalized, and that’s why individual experience will be based on the reason you have lower back pain. Which takes me back to my dad. There are people who are more prone to back pain, in the same way that others may be pre-disposed to stomach problems. What the acupuncturist offers is a genuinely holistic look at you. Not just your back.

  • Source: NICE
  • Source: BACC
  • Sources: Pomeranz 1987; Zhao2008
  • Kim 2008, Kavoussi 2007;Zijlstra 2003
  • Thomas 2006
  • Radcliffe 2006;Witt 2006
  • Ammendolia 2008; Yuan 2008