There is evidence that both real and simulated acupuncture provides greater relief of back pain than usual treatment methods, according to new research.
Scientists from Seattle compared four different types of treatment in a clinical trial involving 638 adults with chronic low back pain.
One group received usual care, while the rest were divided into three groups and underwent either an individually tailored acupuncture program, a standard acupuncture therapy or a simulation involving toothpicks at key acupuncture points.
After eight weeks, 60 percent of the participants receiving any type of acupuncture reported significant improvement in symptoms, compared with 39 percent of those receiving usual care.
After one year, 59 to 65 percent of those in the acupuncture groups experienced an improvement in function compared with 50 percent of the usual care group.
"For patients seeking a relatively safe and effective treatment for a condition for which conventional treatments are often ineffective, various methods of acupuncture point stimulation appear to be reasonable options," the authors wrote in Archives of Internal Medicine.
They also stressed the benefits stemming from the reduction in long-term exposure to the potential adverse effects of medications.
The article says back pain costs amount to at least $37 billion every year, and the condition is a major contributor to a lower quality of life.
According to a joint survey by the National Institutes of Health and the CDC, 40 percent of adults and 10 percent of children sought alternative medicine help for a range of health problems in 2007.