Guidelines from the American Pain Society and American College of Physicians say doctors should consider acupuncture as an alternative therapy for patients with chronic low-back pain that's not helped by conventional treatment.
How Acupuncture Helps Back Pain
Acupuncture began in China more than 2,500 years ago. It involves inserting thin needles at certain points on the body. According to traditional Chinese medicine, the body has more than 2,000 of these points. They are connected by pathways or meridians, which create a flow of energy called Qi (pronounced “chee”). Stimulating these points is said to correct the imbalance of qi and improve the flow of energy. This helps relieve pain and improve health.
It's thought the effects come from stimulating the central nervous system. This may trigger the release of chemicals into the muscles, spinal cord, and brain. These chemicals either alter the experience of pain or produce bodily changes that promote a sense of well-being.
Other theories suggest acupuncture works by:
Speeding the relay of electromagnetic signals. This may begin the flow of pain-killing chemicals such as endorphins. Or it may release immune system cells in the body.
Triggering the release of natural opioids. These are chemicals in the brain that may lessen pain or promote sleep.
Changing brain chemistry by altering the release of neurotransmitters and neurohormones. Neurotransmitters either stimulate or dampen nerve impulses. Neurohormones can affect the function or activity of an organ in the body.
Acupuncture Risks and Side Effects
When done by an experienced, trained acupuncturist, the procedure is generally safe. Serious side effects, such as infections or punctured organs, are rare. Also, acupuncture has fewer adverse side effects than many of the standard treatments for back pain."
More Study: Acupuncture Good For Aching Backs
(CBS/AP) Fake acupuncture works nearly as well as the real thing for low back pain, and either kind performs much better than usual care, German researchers have found.
Almost half the patients treated with acupuncture needles felt relief that lasted months. In contrast, only about a quarter of the patients receiving medications and other Western medical treatments felt better.
Even fake acupuncture worked better than conventional care, leading researchers to wonder whether pain relief came from the body's reactions to any thin needle pricks or, possibly, the placebo effect.
"Acupuncture represents a highly promising and effective treatment option for chronic back pain," study co-author Dr. Heinz Endres of Ruhr University Bochum in Bochum, Germany, said in an e-mail. "Patients experienced not only reduced pain intensity, but also reported improvements in the disability that often results from back pain and, therefore, in their quality of life."