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20/09/2006 - Acupuncture for low back pain provides long-term benefit.

News release:

Low back pain is one of the most common medical complaints and affects millions of people, and according to researchers in the UK the ancient Chinese treatment acupuncture can help sufferers.

As many as 80% of the population of the UK experience back pain at some time in their lives, and the annual economic cost in terms of lost productivity and disability or sickness benefits is estimated to be more than AU$25 billion.

Acupuncture is a popular complementary therapy and is one of the key components of traditional Chinese medicine.

It is used to treat a wide range of conditions and involves inserting fine needles at specific meridians of the body, which are thought to balance the body's energy.

It is believed that there are 12 main meridians and 8 secondary meridians and there are more than 2,000 acupuncture points on the human body that connect with them.

Researchers at the University of York, say the therapy is effective in treating patients with low back pain and the benefits appear to improve with time.

Dr. Hugh MacPherson along with colleagues at Sheffield University, carried out a study with 241 back pain sufferers over a two year period and found that a short course of acupuncture was of benefit to the patients.

They also say the benefit, was seen not just in the short term but particularly in the longer-term, for a period of up to 24 months.

For their research the team compared the impact of adding 10 acupuncture sessions over three months to the normal treatment for back pain, which includes medication, physiotherapy and exercises.

The patient satisfaction and pain levels were measured and recorded during the two-year study.

By three months there was little difference between the acupuncture group and patients who had the standard therapy, but some evidence of improvement in the acupuncture group was seen at 12 months, and by 24 months the difference between the two groups increased.

The patients who received acupuncture reported lower pain levels and used fewer pain killers than those who received usual NHS care.

The researchers also say the acupuncture treatment appeared cost effective, during the two-year study period, the average total cost of back pain treatment that included acupuncture was AU$1150, compared with AU$862 for usual care.

The British Government has proposed statutory regulation of acupuncture.

The Department of Health says it is up to local NHS service providers to decide whether to provide the treatment.


The study is published in the British Medical Journal.