Both genuine acupuncture and a sham form of the technique can help people suffering from long-standing low back pain, German researchers have found.
“A significant reduction in the need for pain medication was achieved for many acupuncture patients in our study,” says study author Dr. Heinz Endres of Ruhr-University Bochum in Bochum, Germany.
The study involved 1,162 adults who had suffered from low back pain for an average of eight years. The participants were randomly assigned to receive verum acupuncture, sham acupuncture or conventional therapy for at least 10 sessions (usually two per week).
Verum acupuncture is based on traditional Chinese medicine, whereas in the sham procedure the needles were inserted to a lower depth at non-standard locations. Conventional therapy involved medication, physiotherapy and exercise. Neither the participants nor the observers assessing the results were informed about the type of acupuncture received.
After six months, the researchers evaluated which patients had responded to treatment, based on reductions in pain and improvements in function. Similar proportions of people in the genuine and sham acupuncture groups responded (48 per cent and 44 per cent, respectively), but only 27 per cent of people receiving conventional therapy responded.
“We cannot yet say conclusively what mechanism is responsible for the effect produced by acupuncture,” Endres says. Nevertheless, he says the technique should be offered as an option in treating chronic pain.