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Acupuncture, Real or Fake, Eases Back Pain
Date:5/12/2009

Study found it worked even when treatment didn't break the skin

TUESDAY, May 12 (HealthDay News) -- Any kind of acupuncture, whether it pierced the skin or not, eased chronic lower back pain in a group of adult patients.

"All were superior to usual care," said Daniel Cherkin, lead author of a report published in the May 11 issue of the Archives of Internal Medicine. "Acupuncture is an effective treatment for chronic back pain. People receiving acupuncture are more likely to get better."

But the unusual finding that non-penetrating acupuncture did as well as acupuncture that used standard needles will raise questions about how this works, added Cherkin, who is a senior investigator with the Group Health Center for Health Studies in Seattle.

Chronic back pain is a chronic health issue in the United States, and is the top reason why patients go to acupuncturists, often when traditional therapies disappoint.

Although there have been previous studies on whether acupuncture represents a viable treatment option, "the evidence of the value of acupuncture in general is very murky because the quality of the research is not very good," Cherkin said.

This trial, the largest randomized one of its kind, was funded by the National Center for complementary and Alternative Medicine, part of the U.S. National Institutes of Health.

More than 600 adults with chronic lower back pain were randomized to one of four study arms: individualized acupuncture, standardized acupuncture, simulated acupuncture (non-penetrating) or "usual care."

In the simulated acupuncture group, practitioners mimicked needle acupuncture by using a toothpick in a needle guide tube -- poking at traditional pressure points without breaking the skin.

Participants received 10 treatments over seven weeks, at the end of which dysfunction and symptom scores improved equally among the three treatment arms.

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