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Even Sham Acupuncture Eases Low Back Pain

Study finds real improvements compared to standard therapy

MONDAY, Sept. 24 (HealthDay News) -- Six months of traditional Chinese or even sham acupuncture treatment appeared more effective than conventional treatment for low back pain, says a German study of almost 1,200 patients.

Traditional (verum) acupuncture involves needling of fixed points and additional points on the body to a depth of 5 to 40 millimeters, while sham acupuncture involves needling to a depth of 1 to 3 millimeters into the lower back, avoiding known pressure points.

Patients in the study were divided into three treatment groups: verum acupuncture; sham acupuncture; and conventional therapy, which consisted of medication, physical therapy and exercise.

Patient response rate (defined as a 33 percent improvement in pain or a 12 percent improvement in functional ability) was checked after six months of treatment. Response rates were: verum group, 47.6 percent; sham group, 44.2 percent; conventional group, 27.4 percent.

The findings are in the Sept. 24 issue of the 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," wrote Dr. Michael Haake, of the University of Regensburg in Bad Abbach, and his colleagues.

"Acupuncture gives physicians a promising and effective treatment option for chronic low back pain, with few adverse effects or contraindications. The improvements in all primary and secondary outcome measures (in the study) were significant and lasted long after completion of treatment," they said.

More information

The U.S. National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine has more about acupuncture.

-- Robert Preidt

SOURCE: JAMA/Archives journals, news release, Sept. 24, 2007

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