By SIMON CABLE
25th September 2007
Acupuncture is twice as effective at reducing lower back pain than conventional medicines, according to researchers.
But pretend acupuncture, where the needles are inserted less deeply, has also been found to have a similar effect, suggesting that the pain relief could be psychological.
Back pain afflicts between 70 and 85 per cent of the adult population at some point in their lives and accounts for the loss of almost five million working days each year in the UK.
A trial of more than 1,162 people aged between 18 and 86 who had suffered from lower back pain for an average of eight years was carried out by German medics.
They were divided into three groups, each of which was treated with either genuine acupuncture treatment, fake acupuncture or with drugs, pain-killers of physiotherapy.
After six months almost 48 per cent of those undergoing genuine treatment reported at least a one third improvement in their condition.
Just over 44 per cent of those on fake treatment said they felt a similar improvement, contrasted to only 27.4 per cent of those treated with traditional treatment.
The results of the trial, carried out by Michael Haake and a team of medics at the University of Regensburg have been published in medical journal, Archives of Internal Medicine.
"The superiority of both forms of acupuncture suggests a common underlying mechanism that may act on pain generation, transmission of pain signals or processing of pain signals by the central nervous system and that is stronger than the action mechanism of conventional therapy," said Mr Haake.
"Acupuncture gives physicians a promising and effective treatment option for those experiencing chronic lower back pain, with adverse effects or contradictions.
"The improvements in all primary and secondary outcome measures were significant and lasted longer after completion of the treatment."
It is the largest known study into the pain-relieving benefits of acupuncture to date.
In traditional acupuncture, 14 to 20 needles are inserted up to 1-1/2 inches deep at "medians" and other prescribed locations until the patient is said to experience a numbing sensation.
Previous trials have also shown the positive effects the treatment can have for treating other body pain, nausea and headaches.
It had previously been believed that the process whereby needles are inserted into the skin, was only effective if the needles were inserted at precisely the right points on the body.
But the study suggests that there are in fact no physical effects at all, and that the healing of pain stems from the patients psychological conviction that they are getting better.
But it is encouraging for the huge numbers of people who suffer with back pain. Between 70 percent and 85 percent of people complain of the condition at some point in their lives, according to the study.
Another study has revealed that 4.9 million working days are currently lost each year as a result of lower back pain.