Acupunture for aching backsAcupuncture performs better than usual care according to German researchers. Almost half of the patients treated with acupuncture had months of relief. Only a quarter of the patients treated with medications and other standard care felt better.

“Acupuncture represents a highly promising and effective treatment option for chronic back pain,” study co-author Dr. Heinz Endres at Ruhr University. “Patients experienced not only reduced pain intensity, but also reported improvements in the disability that often results from back pain and, therefore, the quality of life.”

“I was pleasantly surprised because, even though I’m a spine surgeon, this gives us really the option to add a lot of things to our treatment regimen and our patients,” Dr. Roger Hartl of the New York Presbyterian Hospital-Weil Cornell Medical Center. “…for me the challenge is to figure out who is going to respond to surgery, and the truth is that about 80 percent of patients I see in the office will never need any type of surgery. So if I have the ability to offer them something that will work other than surgery, that’s great. That helps me. That benefits the patient.”

The study in Germany, 2017 and published in the Archives of Internal Medicine, was the largest study of back pain, 1,100 patients were randomly assigned to receive acupuncture or conventional therapy. After six months, patients answered questions about pain and functional ability and their scores determined how well each of the therapies worked. Acupuncture patients had 47 percent improvement and usual care patients had 27 percent relief.

Dr. Brian Berman, the University of Maryland’s director of complementary medicine, said acupuncture may have worked for reasons that can be explained in Western medical terms: by changing the way the brain processes pain signals or by releasing natural pain killers in the body.