Acupuncture: Myth or Miracle?

People who suffer chronic neck or back pain sometimes find themselves willing to try anything for relief. When medication or physical therapy fails to provide the relief they are seeking it is natural to turn to alternative medical treatments, some of them may be helpful, others are little more useful than snake oil.

Many patients ask whether acupuncture for back pain is helpful or useless. Fortunately, there have been many studies of the effectiveness of acupuncture for pain. Taken all together, the research shows it is neither myth nor miracle.

A 2012 analysis of multiple studies, called a meta-analysis, conducted by researchers from the Acupuncture Trialists’ Collaboration analyzed data from 29 randomized controlled trials that involved a total of 17,922 people. The results published in the Archives of Internal Medicine showed that for all types of pain studied, acupuncture provided statistically significant relief compared to simulated or no acupuncture. They concluded that acupuncture is a clinically reasonable option for patients with chronic pain.

More recent studies indicate that the relief is typically short-lived and that its effectiveness may. be associated with a person's expectations and beliefs about the treatment and even the relationship with the acupuncturist.

That said, there are very few side effects or complications associated with needle placement. The FDA has established guidelines regarding the manufacturing and sterility of needles. They are labeled for single use only.

The FDA regulates acupuncture needles as medical devices for use by licensed practitioners and requires that needles be manufactured and labeled according to certain standards, including that they be labeled for single use.

If you want to try acupuncture for your neck or back pain, the National Centers for Complementary and Integrative Health offers these guidelines for choosing acupuncture for pain relief:

  • Don’t use acupuncture to postpone seeing a health care provider about a health problem.
  • If you decide to visit an acupuncturist, check his or her credentials. Most states require a license, certification, or registration to practice acupuncture; however, education and training standards and requirements for obtaining these vary from state to state. Although a license does not ensure quality of care, it does indicate that the practitioner meets certain standards regarding the knowledge and use of acupuncture. Most states require a diploma from the National Certification Commission for Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine for licensing.
  • Some conventional medical practitioners–including physicians and dentists–practice acupuncture. In addition, national acupuncture organizations (which can be found through libraries or by searching the Internet) may provide referrals to acupuncturists. When considering practitioners, ask about their training and experience.
  • Ask the practitioner about the estimated number of treatments needed and how much each treatment will cost. Some insurance companies may cover the costs of acupuncture, while others may not. For more information, see NCCIH’s fact sheet Paying for Complementary Health Approaches.
  • Help your health care providers give you better coordinated and safe care by telling them about all the health approaches you use. Give them a full picture of what you do to manage your health.

If your pain requires treatment by a professional to correct your back, neck, or spinal condition, 360 Back & Spine Center can be your solution. Our specialists offer a range of comprehensive treatments that include non-invasive options to help make it easier to live with many types of painful back, neck, and spinal problems.

Instead of suffering, learn more about the many benefits that we can offer you at 360 Back and Spine and how we can help Navigate Your Spine Back to Health, by calling (682) 808-4389.

Sources: Archives of Internal Medicine.2012;172(19):1444-1453 and NCCIH Acupuncture: In Depth