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Is Acupuncture Effective For Back Pain?

One of the most common health complaints any doctor hears is chronic back pain.

And if you’ve ever experienced this malady, you know that it can affect everything you do from walking to driving to sleeping. When it’s bad enough you find yourself aware of it all day long every day. Talk about a pain!

Since I practice acupuncture I often get asked if it will help fix the pain. And based on my experience I always give a qualified ‘yes’ to that question.

The reason it’s a qualified yes is a bit complex, but the simplest way to say it is that every case is different. There can be so many factors influencing back pain that acupuncture can’t be effective 100% of the time. Physical trauma, scar tissue from injury or surgery, inflammatory factors in a person’s diet and even stress can all influence the outcome.

Even so, this shouldn’t discourage you from seeking acupuncture as a viable option when you want to eliminate chronic back pain. Here’s why…

The German Study of 1,160 Cases

In the first-ever study that compared 3 different treatments for chronic back pain the results were remarkable.

Approximately one third of this group received acupuncture, another third got ‘sham’ acupuncture (needling points on the skin not associated with known acupuncture points) and the remaining patients received conventional treatment of exercise, physical therapy and medication.

Here is what happened after six months of treatment:

  • 47 percent of the acupuncture group achieved successful response
  • 44 percent of the sham acupuncture group got significant relief
  • 27 percent of the conventional therapy group felt better

That means that in this study acupuncture was almost twice as effective as conventional medical therapy for chronic back pain.

I’ll add that in my experience many cases that respond favorably see improvement more quickly than six months. And, in cases where food factors are creating inflammation, when we include dietary changes and herbal therapy the degree and speed of relief is often much greater.

“But I Hate Needles!”

Sometimes when I’m talking to people about acupuncture they tell me they hate needles. Usually this comes from previous experience with getting shots or having blood drawn.

I like to make this comparison – acupuncture needle is to hypodermic needle as hypodermic needle is to knitting needle. In other words, the needles used in acupuncture are so fine that they are only distantly related to their larger namesakes.

Most people don’t experience any pain or discomfort with acupuncture, although they might notice a mild ache or sense of pressure where the needles are placed.

And it shouldn’t take long to know if acupuncture is helping. Usually within 3 to 5 visits we can tell whether or not there is going to be improvement. If so, it may take additional visits to be pain free.

So, if you or someone you know suffers from chronic back pain, I encourage you to think about acupuncture as a potentially useful treatment choice.

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