Health Team

Study: Acupuncture Best for Back Pain

Posted October 8, 2007 7:20 p.m. EDT
Updated October 8, 2007 10:46 p.m. EDT

Acupuncture – known as an alternative therapy in the United States – is more effective at treating back pain than traditional medical methods, according to a recent study.

Back-pain sufferers who participated in the study found more relief from the ancient Chinese healing art than from physical therapy and drugs. The study, conducted by German researchers, was published in the Archives of Internal Medicine.

Zona Horton learned the same lesson after injuring her back in a car crash. She said pills, physical therapy and special exercises could not get rid of the pain.

"Nothing seemed to work. I couldn't lay on my right side. I couldn't sleep on my right side," she said.

Horton said she found the trick when she turned to Dr. Carmion Pope, an acupuncture specialist.

"It's been wonderful for me. It worked," she said, adding that she now feels almost back to normal.

The German researchers divided 1,000 people who suffered from chronic lower back pain into three groups. One group received acupuncture, and a second got drugs, physical therapy and exercise.

The third group was treated with sham acupuncture, in which needles are placed in the skin but not deeply enough or at the proper points.

After six months, 46 percent of patients getting traditional or sham acupuncture reported significant pain relief. Only 27 percent of patients said they responded well to standard medical treatment.

In a separate analysis, acupuncture was also found to be more cost-effective than the usual treatment without acupuncture.

Even sham acupuncture can increase levels of endorphins, the body's natural pain killers, Pope explained.

"By doing acupuncture, people are getting that endorphin release. They're getting that mind-body connection, and that's what makes it work," she said.