Updated Review of Acupuncture as a Treatment for Chronic Low Back Pain

This report gives an updated review of studies done using acupuncture. All patients included were at least 18 years old. Everyone had nonspecific low back pain.

Thirty-five (35) studies from 1996 to 2003 were reviewed. The last review had 11 studies from 1966 to 1996. Acupuncture was compared to other therapies, no therapy, and sham therapies. Acupuncture combined with other treatments was also compared.

Results were measured by pain intensity, function, and return to work status. Other, less important measures were viewed. These included range of motion, muscle strength, general health, and use of medications for pain relief.

The researchers looked at how well the study was done. They also judged how the acupuncture was done. The biggest problem was the quality of reporting. Some studies didn't give enough information to allow for judgment of the study. The same was true for some of the study research methods. They were either very poor or not described well enough to judge.

According to this review, acupuncture is better than no treatment. This is only true for short-term pain relief. The positive effects don't seem to last. Acupuncture works better than a sham treatment. Again this finding is only true in the short-term. There's no difference over the long-term.

There was no difference (short-term) between using acupuncture to treat chronic low back pain and anti-inflammatories, massage, or self-care education. Massage did have a better result in the long run. Acupuncture combined with other forms of treatment had better results than acupuncture alone.

Finally, the authors couldn't see that one type of acupuncture was better than another. The small number of patients in many studies and low quality suggest that larger, better studies of acupuncture are needed before firm conclusions can be made.

Andrea D. Furlan, MD, et al. Acupuncture and Dry-Needling for Low Back Pain: An Updated Systematic Review Within the Framework of the Cochrane Collaboration. In Spine. April 15, 2005. Vol. 30. No. 8. Pp. 944-963.

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