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Acupuncture for Low Back Pain

Back pain is a major cause of disability in the US. Cases with nonspecific back pain can be difficult to treat. Acupuncture is an ancient practice used to stimulate the body’s ability to heal itself and promote well-being. Small needles are placed in very specific areas based on your needs. Ancient medicine believes that the needles help to relieve blocked energy pathways. Modern medicine believes the process stimulates the nervous system to release beneficial chemicals. Regardless of the conflict in theory, acupuncture is gradually becoming an accepted option for a variety of health issues. It is typically used in conjunction with modern medicine for the best results.

Researchers in Northern Ireland reviewed past studies of acupuncture for low back pain. The research published in Spine found that although the acupuncture provided more relief than traditional treatment it provided the same amount of relief as a sham treatment did.

About the Study

The researchers reviewed 23 previous randomized control trials. The trials had to have at least 40 participants and have conducted acupuncture for nonspecific low back pain. The studies compared acupuncture to conventional treatments or sham acupuncture treatments. In a sham treatment the participants may be put through actions similar to the real treatment but never actually receive it.

After combining the studies researchers found:

  • Moderate evidence that acupuncture is more effective than no treatment
  • Strong evidence that there is no difference between acupuncture and sham acupuncture for short-term pain relief
  • Strong evidence that acupuncture can be useful as a supplement to other forms of conventional treatment

How Does This Affect You?    TOP

Nonspecific low back pain can be difficult to relieve. See your doctor to rule out problems like herniated discs, pulled muscles, and nerve impingement. Talk to your doctor about treatment options. Acupuncture with conventional treatments may be able to provide some relief.

Staying active and strengthening the muscles in your back and abdomen can help keep your back healthy. Practice good lifting techniques and aim for good posture. Smoking can also contribute to back pain. So if you smoke, quit.


National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke


Yuan J, Purepong N, Kerr DP, Park J, Bradbury I, McDonough S. Effectiveness of acupuncture for low back pain: a systematic review. Spine . 2008 Nov 1;33(23):E887-900.
Last reviewed February 2009 by Larissa J. Lucas, MD

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This content is reviewed regularly and is updated when new and relevant evidence is made available. This information is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with questions regarding a medical condition.

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