Another way that acupuncture has been shown to be especially beneficial is in treating back pain. Chronic lower back pain has proven to be one of the most difficult medical issues to treat, and it costs businesses an enormous amount of money every year while workers are temporarily disabled. Estimates are that 80% of people worldwide have suffered or will suffer from back pain at some point in their lives, and the lower back is the most common area of pain.
Studies seem to indicate that acupuncture is not effective for back pain caused by the nervous system, but it is effective for injuries or diseases that are not neuropathic in origin. Pain that is caused by inflammation or deterioration of the discs of the spine, as well as pain caused by a herniated disc or spinal nerve roots, appears to respond well to acupuncture. This is good news considering that many back pain sufferers are not candidates for surgery, and all too often, surgery proves to be unsuccessful.
One of the most compelling studies was conducted at Sheffield University in England and was published in 2006. 241 patients participated, and even a short course of acupuncture treatments had long-term effects for many of the patients. The study reported that the majority of patients who had had only ten acupuncture treatments over a three-month period experienced less pain even two years after acupuncture therapy had been discontinued, as compared with those who had experienced no acupuncture treatments at all. Patients who had acupuncture were also less likely to need drugs for pain 24 months following their treatment than patients who followed a different treatment regimen. The doctors who conducted the study were quite surprised to discover that so many patients reported the effects of acupuncture so long after treatment had finished.
The Sheffield University study especially showed that acupuncture is effective for the short-term treatment of lower back pain. Those patients who received acupuncture treatments were more likely to experience relief after three months than those who received medication, exercises, and massages.
Even in studies where some patients were given “sham acupuncture” involving needles placed in areas that are not along the meridians or in known acupuncture points, only those patients who were given actual acupuncture treatments showed positive results. In one such study conducted in Sweden, 14 of the patients who were receiving acupuncture had been on temporary disability from work, and 7 of the patients receiving sham acupuncture had been on temporary disability. After 10 treatments, 12 of the patients receiving acupuncture reported a decrease in pain, and some of them had already returned to part-time or full-time work. Only one of the patients receiving sham acupuncture reported feeling better, and at least one of them worsened.
It is important to note that in the studies of acupuncture treatment for lower back pain, not all patients experienced relief, and of those who reported improvement, some of them still needed to take pain medications. The most important aspect of the studies is that the majority of patients receiving acupuncture treatment at least reduced the number of pills they took per week compared to patients who did not receive acupuncture, and in some cases, this reduction of medication was as much as 28%.
In 1994, a study in Beijing, China of 56 patients who was experiencing chronic lower back pain showed a 98.3% success rate. This is higher than most studies conducted in the western world, which some physicians attribute to the superior level of experience and training of acupuncturists in China.
Even horses with chronic lower back pain have experienced relief from acupuncture treatments, which certainly debunks the theory that relief is due to a placebo effect. The 1987 study was conducted on 15 horses that could not compete as a result of back pain. After just 9 weeks of treatments once per week, 13 of the 15 horses were able to begin competing again, and 11 of the horses were still competing as much as a year after treatment had ended.